How to Win Money Playing on Pick-Em Sites
Along with the legalization of sports betting, “Pick-Em” platforms have seen a meteoric rise in popularity. "Pick-Em" sites are platforms such as “PrizePicks” and “Underdog” that operate under a DFS license instead of a traditional sportsbook license. This provides some freedom in the total number of states they are legal in but also comes with restrictions. Every wager has to be a parlay, and they only offer player-based bets. Nothing on which team will win; it has to be based on a player's statistics or fantasy points.
Blanket advice for novice bettors is that all parlays are bad because the odds are stacked against you. While this is true to an extent, pick-em platforms have a ton of use cases when leveraged properly. In order to get into the nitty-gritty of how to make the best decisions according to math, I consulted our data scientist at 4for4, Sam Hoppen. He’ll break down how many legs you should be playing, which sites offer the best odds, and whether you should be taking “insurance.” In addition to the math, there are many more anecdotal cases I have personally used these platforms to make money and how sports speculators can utilize them properly next season. For the sake of this article, we’ll talk about the four primary platforms we use at 4for4, including PrizePicks, Underdog, Vivid Picks, and No House Advantage.
One of the easiest ways to get limited on actual sportsbooks is by betting on stale lines. For those who don’t understand what that means, here's an example. Say a starting running back practices in full all week but tweaks a hamstring in warmups and is forced to miss the game. Sportsbooks were expecting him to play, but now he suddenly isn’t. As soon as that news breaks, there is a small window to bet on the backup running backs over in a massively +EV spot before sportsbooks take the line down. A normal backup's line is anywhere from 10-20 rushing yards; for this example, we’ll say 15. If that backup is suddenly starting the game and seeing 10+ carries, that line likely jumps closer to 50 yards. So getting In at over 15 yards on a line that should be closer to 50 will probably wind up as the best bet you make all week. If your normal unit is $100 and you try to put $500 on this, a sportsbook will almost certainly catch on and limit you.
This is an important concept because PrizePicks and Underdog generally move a bit slower than sportsbooks but some of the newer platforms mentioned above might leave lines up even longer like a couple of minutes instead of 15 seconds like the traditional sportsbook. They also likely won’t limit you when betting on a stale line.
Quick plug: The Fantasy Life App has the fastest push notifications in the industry and is an absolute must if you want to make quick bets, as I discussed above.
Beyond last-minute injuries, there are other situations where pick-em sites can be extremely useful.
Situational Betting Opportunities
Two instances pop into my mind where the pick-em sites didn’t adjust properly for situations. In Week 1 last year, the Bears and 49ers were playing each other, but there was a torrential downpour along with strong winds. Trey Lance and Justin Fields aren’t exactly pristine passers to begin with, and slippery field conditions, along with tons of rain, were going to make it impossible to throw. Sportsbooks had adjusted both of their numbers down 25+ yards while pick-em sites left them at their original numbers. Not only would quarterbacks be impacted, but pass-catchers as well, so it created some easy correlated plays.
Another example is in Week 18 when the Vikings were playing against the Bears. The Vikings had little to play for and had already talked about benching their starters at halftime. Yet, pick-em sites were still posting lines like they were going to play for a full game!
The Vikings are probably resting their starters for a good chunk of their game against Chicago.
I alerted our FREE discord that PrizePicks has lines up 👀
Join the discord: https://t.co/R48n3BIVVs
— Connor Allen (@ConnorAllenNFL) January 6, 2023
Sportsbooks literally never posted any Vikings players, whereas pick-em sites left these lines up for a while despite the news of them only playing a half. I also posted that bet in our free pick em discord, where you can get push notifications of any plays I make on these platforms.
Shopping for the best line is important when betting on sports. Comparing sportsbooks to pick-em sites is a little less important, considering you have to parlay picks, but oftentimes pick-em sites will be off sportsbook lines by 5-10%. This doesn’t automatically make it a good bet, as the prop market isn’t necessarily efficient but if you have other reasoning behind it, getting an extra 5-10% in expected value could help.
This is mostly for those who are struggling to get enough action down on domestic sportsbooks. With these four pick-em sites, you could easily get down $1500+ as the limit is roughly $250-500 per site, depending on the market. They also generally don’t limit players unless you are blasting them routinely in a market no one else is playing. That’s usually not the case for any big sport.
To be clear, you are still likely losing EV on standard plays by utilizing these sites because you have to parlay picks, and there is a hefty amount of vig. When you do use these on standard plays, understanding the math behind how many legs you should be including and which sites to use is really important. Sam Hoppen dug DEEP into the data in the second half of this article.
Breakeven Percentages and Vig
Unfortunately, with all of these pick-em games, we aren’t able to see the odds for either side of a leg like we can on sportsbook. But, with some handy math, we have deduced what the implied odds are for each leg of an entry at the four operators that we’re covering today. With these odds, we can see subsequently calculate the implied vig associated with each leg combination. It’s important to note that the odds are the same on both sides of the leg regardless of which side (over or under) you choose because the payout does not change when you take a different side:
So, you can read this as a 2-leg Pick ‘Em entry on Underdog would be equivalent to creating a 2-leg parlay on a sportsbook with two bets of -136 each and a subsequent vig of 8.42%. If you had your druthers, building a 5-leg slip on No House Advantage offers the least expensive parlay in terms of vig charged.
Another option that some of these operators offer is in the form of some sort of insurance on your slips. In these cases, you can get one leg (or sometimes two legs) of your slip incorrect and still get a payout. The table below compares what the expected breakeven percent and vig is for slips with and without insurance. To calculate these numbers, we ran 100,000 simulations of pick-em slips to find breakeven percentage of both the individual legs and the slip themselves:
You can see that, while the breakeven percent for the individual legs does not change much when you add insurance, the breakeven percent for the slips themselves rises dramatically. For example, adding insurance to a 3-leg slip on Underdog moves the breakeven percent of the slip from 16.81% to a whopping 61.58%! Ultimately, adding insurance reduces your expected value so much that you should rarely consider using it for your slips.
One massive differentiation with pick-em games that can give you an edge is with correlating your picks. I mentioned earlier that the payout does not change whether you choose over or under on a pick-em leg, but on sportsbooks, they often do.
Using an example from the NBA Finals last week, we can illustrate how exactly that works. Below were the listed point totals on FanDuel Sportsbook for several players in Game 3, with each of their odds to go over or under.
If we were to parlay the over on Nikola Jokic's points, the over on Jimmy Butler's points, and the over on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's points, we would be given odds of +676:
The Jokic and Caldwell-Pope picks are negatively correlated picks, though, because only one of those two players can score in a given possession. If we switch Caldwell-Pope's side to be the under (thus correlating our pick with Jokic), the odds shift against us to +524:
Now, if we do the same exercise using Underdog, we can see that there is zero movements in the payout whether we go higher or lower on Caldwell-Pope's point total:
In this case, parlaying the point totals on FanDuel Sportsbook still would have had more expected value with a payout of 6.24x, compared to just 5x (6x including stake) on Underdog. However, we can see that adding correlated plays on Underdog will not sacrifice your overall expected value like it will on a sportsbook. I'm not saying that sportsbooks will always account for correlation in your parlays, but it is something to look out for if you're deciding between a pick-em site or a sportsbook.
- There are multiple ways to make money using pick-em sites, even if the expected value is less than a traditional sportsbook.
- No House Advantage has the best payouts currently.
- When using each site, understand how many legs you should be playing to avoid paying unnecessary juice and maximize expected value.