In sports betting, specifically betting on the NFL, there’s a wager known as the “teaser wheel.” My old friend Nolan Dalla claims to have invented it. I’m willing to give him credit since I don’t know of anyone else who’s claimed it.
To understand a teaser wheel you first need to know a bit about wagering on football and, of course, what a teaser is. I’d recommend Gambling for Dummies for no other reason than I co-authored it and wrote the chapter on sports betting. You can find it here if you wish.
A teaser is a bet on two separate games where the book “gives” you an extra 6 points on each game. It looks enticing since getting 6 extra points is pretty generous. The downside is that you have to win both games. If either of your teams fails to cover or ties you lose.
There are lots of different kinds of teasers where you can get more points but give up in the odds. For example, a 6-point teaser is played at -110. That is, you’re putting $110 at risk to win $100. A 6.5-point teaser (which gets you an extra half-point on each game which eliminates the tie) will be played at -120 meaning you’re risking $120 to win $100. There are also 3-game teasers, 4-game teasers etc. up to 10-game teasers. Odds and payout adjust for each.
Okay? Got it? On to the “teaser wheel.”
Here you pick a key game with your key team. Say the Giants are playing Dallas and the regular, straight-up line is Giants -3. This means they are a three point favorite. A straight wager on the Giants will win if they win by more than 3 points. But you really like the Giants in this game so you decide to take a 6-point teaser meaning that instead of making the bet at -3 you’re now betting it at +3. The Giants can actually lose the game by 1 or 2 points and you’ll still win — provided that your other game also wins (remember, in a teaser you have to win both games).
Nolan’s gambit here is to wheel the teased Giants against Dallas with every other game on the card, a total of 16 wagers and in each of these games you’re getting your teased 6-points. For example, suppose you like the Bears as a 4-point dog against Denver. You bet this game as the other half of the teaser and get the Bears +10. Etc. etc. etc. for all the games that week.
Why do this? Well, Dalla’s argument is that if your key game goes your way you’re getting every game on the schedule at a 6-point edge which should win an awful lot of wagers.
Does it pay off? Hard to say. There’s a lot of controversy in the sports betting world about teasers, even the ordinary ones. Some experts love them. Some hate them. Sports books continue to offer them which means either they’re not good bets or not many punters have figured out how to play them. Has Dalla?
Let’s take a look at the bet with the understanding that in all sports betting the expected value (EV) of the wager depends on the win rate. In order to beat wagering on the NFL you need to be able to pick the winner in straight bets about 55% of the time. This is because the book charges you a fee, known as “juice” or “vig” (short for vigorish, an old Yiddish word for a fee) on each bet. The standard vig is 10% charged on losing bets. If you were to place a straight bet on the Giants in that game you’d put up $110. If you lose, you’re out the whole $110. If you win you get back $210. So if you’re just “flipping coins” you’ll win 1 out of 2 or win $210 while losing $220 or $5 per $100 wager. If you win more than 55% of the time you’re a winning player. If not, not.
So the first question to ask is how often do you need to win a teaser? Let’s look at it from the point of view of Nolan’s teaser wheel and start by assuming, as a decent handicapper, that these 6 extra points get you a win rate of 75% and you’re taking each bet at -110. The teaser wheel means that you’re putting up $110 to win $100 on each of 16 games or $1,760.
The expectation is that 25% of the time your key team loses. You lose all 16 bets costing you $1,760. But 75% of the time your key team wins and you also expect to win all the other games 75% of the time.
Of the 16 games you expect to win, on average, 12 and lose the other 4. The 12 wins net you $1,200 and the 4 losses cost you $440 for a net win of $760. So 75% of the time you will win $760 which averages out to $570 (a win of $760 occurring 75% of the time) and 25% of the time you expect to lose $1,760 for an average loss of minus $440 (1,760 x .25). This yields a tidy average win of +$130 or a EV of +7.4%. Not bad. Looks like Nolan’s on to something — provided that the bettor can pick a teaser win three-quarters of the time.
The next question, of course, is where’s the break point? What percent of wagers must you win to create a profit? If, for example, you’re only picking the teased winner 70% of the time you’re in deep shit. When your key team wins you expect to win an average of 11.2 bets for $1,120 while losing 4.8 bets for a loss of 528 yielding a win of $592. Thirty percent of the time you lose the whole $1,760. So on the 70% of the days where your key team wins your win is $414 (.7 x 592) but 30% of the time your loss is $1,760 for an average of minus $528. Now you’re looking at a long-term EV of minus $114 per wheel bet. For a 70% winning handicapper, the teaser wheel EV is a painful -6.5%.
In short, the teaser wheel is only a smart play for a handicapper capable of picking the key game correctly at least 73% to 74% of the time. Is Nolan that good? I dunno. He probably doesn’t either because his life is, no matter how much time he spends at this game, only a small sample.
The wager also has huge variance because when your key team goes down every bet is a losing bet. Variance like this can do terrible things to your bankroll … and to your heart.