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NBA Teasers: Any Value?

T.O. Whenham of Doc's Sports Predictions

Are you interested in betting teasers in the NBA? You need to ask yourself a simple question - do you find betting teasers fun? If you do, and if you bet on sports largely to have fun, then betting teasers is a good idea for you. If, on the other hand, your goal is long-term profit and minimized house edge then you should probably avoid teasers in all but unique and specific situations. Don't believe me? Let's have a look.

First, what is a teaser? It's a bet in which you take two or more teams and add a set amount of points to the lines of each team. In the NBA the most common teasers are 4.5, 5, and 5.5 points, with both higher and lower point totals available from some betting shops. Let's say you liked the Lakers, who were favored by six, and Cleveland, who were two point underdogs. If you were to bet a 4.5-point teaser then those lines would become Los Angeles -1.5 and Cleveland +6.5. You bet both games on one ticket, and both results have to occur as you need them to in order for you to receive a payout on your ticket. You aren't limited to just two games, either - you can add more games, and your greater risk is rewarded by a greater monetary return. Some books also have a super teaser that allows you even more points (often seven or more) at a lower payoff.

Teasers slash points off of a favorite's point spread and add a further cushion to underdog's, so they sound like a gift to bettors, don't they? Wrong. So, so wrong. The problem is the house edge that you are sacrificing. A house edge is a fact of life in sports betting (unless you have a lot of degenerate friends you can wager with), but smart bettors look to minimize that edge in order to maximize their profit. Teasers certainly don't do that. The reason for this is fairly simple to see.

Let's look at a simple two team, 4.5-point teaser. That wager typically pays out at even money. Since you have to win both games in order to win the bet then, over the long term you have to pick 70.7 percent of games correctly in order to just break even. That's because .707 * .707 = .50, so if you pick 70.7 percent of games correctly then you will pick both right half of the time. The problem is that a shift in spreads of 4.5 points does not, over the long term, cause the favorites to cover more than 70.7 percent of their games, nor does it cause the underdogs to cover more than that mark. By making this bet over the long term then, you are willingly accepting a losing proposition. The situation doesn't improve as the points you add get bigger, either. A 5.5-point, two-team teaser typically pays 5-to-6. That means you have to win 73.9 percent of your games to break even. As is the case with parlays, the house edge also gets larger as you add more teams to your parlay.

Though NBA teasers are not profitable over the long run, it is not theoretically impossible that situations could exist where the bet could make sense. All you would need to do is figure out what the break-even point of the bet is and then find situations where the historical occurrence of an outcome comes at a higher rate than the breakeven rate. None come immediately to mind, but, for the sake of argument, let's say that you were to discover that teams favored by four win 85 percent of their games at home on nights when there is a lunar eclipse. If you were to find a night where the moon and the sun were aligned, and two teams were favored at home by four, then you would have a very worthwhile bet. With a good deal of handicapping work it is feasible that situations like that could be found in the NBA, much like the Wong teaser has been shown to be profitable in the NFL.

Despite the long-term inherent lack of profitability in the NBA teaser, there may be specific situations where a teaser could be attractive. Say, for example, that your handicapping has led you to identify two solid favorites that you like, but which you are lukewarm about. If both teams were favored by seven, and you figure that they will win by somewhere between five and eight points, then you won't feel confident betting on them on the point spread, but you also wouldn't feel confident betting on their opponents. You could confidently bet the moneyline, but the return would be low given the size of the spread. By using a four-point teaser you could adjust both point spreads down so that the spreads are below your predicted score. That might be the best way to confidently maximize profit potential given your suspected result.

Teasers aren't the best bet on the board by any means. That doesn't mean you shouldn't play them, though. Some people love the action and excitement of the wager. You just need to know what you are betting, and what it is costing you. If it still seems worthwhile then go for it.

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