When it comes to gambling, I believe emotion should not be involved. So if I’m at a craps table, I am going to play pretty much the same way regardless if the table is “hot” or “cold.” If I am at a blackjack table, I am going to play according to basic strategy regardless if I’m on a good run or a bad run. Just as with my life, in casinos I have no use for superstition.
In December I went to San Manuel in San Bernardino and lost like a thousand dollars playing blackjack and craps. In January I went to Pechanga in Temecula and lost like a thousand dollars playing blackjack and craps. Until very recently that was the last I gambled.
But before the second round of the NBA Playoffs — the Conference Semi-Finals — I texted back and forth with one of the craps dealers I work with named Jeff. He and I share an interest in sports betting (or gambling in general), even though I lean in the direction of wagering on individual teams or games, while he (and his younger brother, whom I also work with) prefer daily fantasy. Either way he is someone I consider to be an intelligent sports fan, so 95 percent of our conversations revolve around that, and occasionally I bounce betting ideas off of him.
That day I happened to be looking at the Boston Celtics, who were a +315 underdog on the moneyline to win their series against the Philadelphia 76ers. I told Jeff — partly just because I’m a fan of Boston’s coach, Brad Stevens, and partly because I felt like making some kind of bet — that that price seemed appetizing. My logic was that the 76ers were being overrated by the media and the public, and that people might be sleeping on the Celtics since they are without their best player, Kyrie Irving.
Jeff was on board with my thought process, even though we’re both aware that gamblers will convince themselves of just about anything to feel better about risking their money. But the fact that he didn’t immediately shoot me down made me feel like I wasn’t completely coming out of left field.
So, I did what any degenerate would do: Instead of betting only on the underdog Celtics at +315 to win their series against the 76ers, I went ahead and turned it into a 4-team parlay of all the teams I thought would advance. This included the also-underdog Cavaliers (+170), as well as Golden State (-2381) and Houston (-4000), who were huge favorites and mostly inconsequential to the odds of the payout.
In case you aren’t familiar with what a parlay is, the idea is pretty straightforward. You make one wager, and that money carries over from bet-to-bet like a snowball each time one of them wins. So if you are betting a 4-team parlay, it means you have to win all four bets in order to get the money.
In this case I bet $100, and the 4-team bet paid about 11-t0-1. That’s what is so seductive about parlays: they pay so much better than individual bets. For instance, if I had only bet on the Celtics, $100 would have paid $315 (which is good); if I had only bet on the Cavaliers, $100 would have paid $170 (which is also pretty good); if I had bet on the Warriors, $100 would have paid like $4 and some change (which is not good); if I had bet $100 on the Rockets, $100 would have paid $2.50 (which is also very not good).
As you can see, by themselves a couple of the bets paid out okay. But lumped together, the return was extremely worthwhile. 11-to-1 is a bet that’s mathematically supposed to hit only 9.1% of the time, which makes it surprising not just that I won it, but that I won it so damn easily.
What I mean is, there was very little sweat involved with this parlay. Cleveland won their series in a four-game sweep. The Rockets, Warriors and Celtics each won their respective series 4 games to 1. As a quartet, the teams I bet on to advance went a composite 16-3 (84.2%). If one didn’t know any better, they would have just as well assumed that the Celtics and Cavaliers were favorites, and that the 76ers and Raptors were the underdogs.
Luckily for me, the public were putting their money on the 76ers to win because they are young and extremely fucking talented, and putting their money on the Raptors because LeBron James and the Cavs inspired zero confidence.
My thought process is simple, but it probably helped me in making this bet: When it comes to the NBA — a sport I follow significantly less ardently than MLB, the NFL, college basketball or college football — I bet on the teams I think were the best before the season started. This year it was particularly easy to come up with those teams. In the Western Conference the two best teams before the season started were the Warriors and Rockets; in the Eastern Conference the two best teams before the season started were the Celtics and whatever team LeBron happened to be playing for.
Yeah, stud Celtics like Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving were hurt and unavailable. Yeah, beyond LeBron James the Cavaliers have, like, nobody to write home about. But why let pesky “facts” get in the way of a bet that paid out 11:1?
We can take this thought process a step further, now that we have advanced beyond the Conference Semi-Final rounds. Before the season started, I thought the Warriors were a better team than the Rockets. Before the season started, I thought whatever team LeBron played for were better than the Celtics.
Both teams I have winning in six games.