09/16/2003 12:00AM

Parlay cards the ticket for casinos

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LAS VEGAS - Parlay cards are a Nevada sports book director's best friend.

I can't tell you how many times I've asked one how his bottom line was for the weekend and he would respond, "We broke even on straight bets but cleaned up on parlay cards." Or, "We lost on straight bets but were saved by the parlay cards."

In the last fiscal year, ending June 30, Nevada sports books won $22.7 million from parlay card bettors, pretty much $5 and $10 at a time. The figure was up from $19.2 million in 2002. Typically, sports books hold 25-30 percent on these bets, even after the occasional $100,000 payout that makes the news. The hold percentage on straight bets is less than 5 percent.

This should tell you that parlay cards should be avoided. If you're going to bet three-team parlays anyway, you're better off doing it off the board, where you standard payoff is 6-1. The typical "half-point" parlay card, the most popular version, usually pays 6 1/2 for 1, which actually means 5 1/2 to 1. So, you can see you're already giving up some value.

Sharp bettors know the only time they can get an edge on parlay cards is when they can find a line that has moved a few points on the board but is locked in on the cards. The bad thing is that the minimum number of teams to play on a card is three, so you have to find at least two other games to group with it .

The choices in parlay cards have grown over the years, including the "ties win" card (which has slightly lower payouts than the half-point cards because you can push a game and still win), "teaser" card (which moves the line several points in your favor, but you also get lower payouts), "mega teaser" or "super teaser" card (which moves the lines even more in your favor), "Sunday/Monday" parlay card (focuses on just the prime time NFL games, and includes proposition bets) "first half" parlay card (uses first-half lines, if that's your specialty), and "reverse teasers" (which moves lines against you, but you get higher payouts for laying more points, or getting fewer on the underdogs).

Here's a teaser for you: Next Thursday, I will take a closer look at some specific examples from Nevada casinos and where the best bargains can be found.

Favorites strong thus far

Chalk players had a field day Sunday as favorites went 10-4-1 in the NFL, before the Giants loss Monday night. Through two weeks, favorites are now 19-10 (65.5 percent) with two pushes. Note: the Rams-Giants season-opener closed at pick-em and is not included in these stats.

Home underdogs are historically a very good bet, but not this year. They are an amazing 0-6 against the spread. Six of the 14 games this week have road favorites.

One trend that is holding true to form is the 2-1 spread record of double-digit dogs. The Texans beat the Dolphins outright in the first week as a 13 1/2-point dog and the Bengals (+11 1/2) covered vs. the Raiders on Sunday before the Bears (+10) came up just short vs. the Vikings in a 24-13 loss on Sunday night. Keep in mind that the Panthers also beat the Buccaneers as a 9 1/2-point dog, just under the threshold. There are no double-digit dogs this week.

Weekend wrap-up

When looking at how Nevada sports books fared over the weekend, the items above are relevant. Parlay cards are usually cash cows for the casinos because the public usually strings together a lot of favorites that they expect to cover. That usually doesn't pay off, but it did this past Sunday.

Of the nine early NFL games, the favorites went 7-1-1, leading to a lot of cashed parlays. Another result that hurt the books was the Sunday night game, which usually has a fair share of live parlays tied to the favorite. The Vikings closed as a 10-point favorite (and were an attractive -8 1/2 on most parlay cards) over the Bears and led 17-13 in the closing minutes. If they settled for a field goal, it would have saved the books. But, the Vikings scored a touchdown to win 24-13 and cover the spread.

Saturday started out much better for the books when they won most of the major decisions, but they got hurt late with Oregon, which was bet up from -10 1/2 to -13 1/2 and used on most parlay cards, and blew out Arizona 48-10. The game was also nationally televised, which always draws higher handle.

* My bankroll plays had their best weekend of the young season. Saturday, I went 2-1 with wins on North Carolina State +11 1/2 at Ohio State, a 44-38 spread-covering loss in triple overtime, and Oregon. The loss was on Hawaii +21 at Southern Cal, a 61-32 loss which admittedly wasn't as close as the score indicates. For the season, the college bankroll moves to 5-8 for a net loss of 3.8 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1).

* The news was even better in the NFL, where I went 3-1-1. The wins were on the Bills -2 1/2 over the Jaguars, the Patriots +5 1/2 over the Eagles, and the Broncos -3 over the Chargers. All three teams won by at least 20 points. The loss was on the Steelers +3 1/2 vs. the Chiefs, a 41-20 whipping, especially in the second half. My 2-unit play on the Rams -3 vs. the 49ers ended as a push when the Rams won 27-24 in overtime. It was nearly a win as the Rams led by a touchdown until the 49ers scored on a fourth-down play in the final minute to force overtime. For the season, the NFL bankroll is 5-3-2 for a net profit of 1.7 units.

Tackling trends

Last week, I liked one trend in which N.C. State was 7-0 as a road dog under coach Chuck Amato and used that as one of my bankroll plays. I should have listened to myself when I discounted the fact Notre Dame was 5-1 against the spread vs. Michigan and that Iowa State had covered the last five times vs. Iowa, calling it a trap.

In a game this week, Boston College has covered the last four and five of the last six times Miami-Fla. has visited. This would be tempting, but Boston College isn't playing too well and I would prefer to be getting at least two touchdowns. As of noon Wednesday, the line was hovering between 12 and 13 points. I'll pass.

Michigan State has covered six of its last seven meetings with Notre Dame. As of Wednesday, this game was off the board with Michigan State quarterback Jeff Smoker questionable to play. If Smoker is cleared to play, I would consider the Spartans as double-digit dogs in this spot.

Rice has covered eight of the last 10 times Texas has visited and is getting 30 points on Saturday. But, after Texas's shocking upset loss to Arkansas, the Longhorns might take their frustrations out on Rice and the points might not be enough.