Virginia Sports Bettors Love Parlays And Hate Violence

Posted on February 4, 2022

Virginia sports bettors don’t enjoy wagering on combat sports, but really like bets with long odds and huge payoffs.

According to a recent report from the Virginia Lottery, parlays were one of the most popular bet types in the first 11 months of the state’s sports betting market.

On the other hand, boxing and mixed martial arts events were the least popular sports to bet on. That report showed that over the same timeframe, just 1.3% of the total handle was placed on those two sports.

Despite the odds, Virginia bettors love parlays

A parlay is a wager in which the gambler must correctly pick more than one outcome to win. These bets can be as small as picking two different games or as large as a 15-leg parlay with a mix of prop bets and game outcomes.

However, if you don’t get every leg correct, you will lose the bet. As a result, the books will offer bigger payouts for the larger parlays.

For example, parlaying the favorite in two different NFL matchups would probably pay slightly better than even money. But if you were to parlay an entire slate of Sunday games, winning that bet is worth roughly 15,000-to-1.

In that second example, a $20 bet would result in a $300,000 payday if you picked all 15 games correctly. And Virginians can’t help themselves but take those odds.

Between January and November of last year, those types of bets made up 18.5% of the state’s handle. With just shy of a $2.8 billion handle over that span, it translates to $516.6 million spent on parlays.

Unfortunately for bettors, sportsbooks have the best hold percentage on those bets compared to any other wager.

A study from the University of Nevada Las Vegas Center for Gaming Research showed that sportsbooks have an average hold percentage of 30% on parlays. By comparison, every other bet type is roughly 5%.

Virginia sports bettors are a peaceful bunch

Bettors in the commonwealth really don’t like to bet on fighting. Mixed martial arts events made up just 0.6% of the handle and boxing ranked just a couple hundredths of a percent below it.

Based on those percentages, $17.36 million was bet on boxing and another $17.92 million on MMA events.

Outside of the Olympic Games, which isn’t a regular occurrence and features much more obscure sporting events, there wasn’t a less popular sport among gamblers.

Even sports that didn’t have a strict categorization had more of an appeal to the state’s bettors.

“Other” sports attracted 3.7% of the total handle, or $103.32 million. Virginians must have the same love of table tennis that Coloradans possess.

However, their disdain for violence goes beyond just combat sports. Virginians also weren’t keen on betting hockey, which is the only one of the four major American sports in which fistfights are commonplace.

Hockey made up just 2.3% of the total handle, which equates to $63.8 million.

The sport’s lack of popularity among Virginia gamblers could easily be a function of culture and location. While the northern part of the state is relatively close to Washington, D.C. and could have plenty of Washington Capitals fans, most of the state isn’t near an NHL franchise.

Furthermore, most southern states don’t have a vibrant hockey fan base. If we exclude Florida, the only southeastern cities with an NHL team are Nashville and Raleigh. After all, it only took slightly more than a decade for the Atlanta Thrashers to leave their city and bring the Jets back to Winnipeg.

Here is a breakdown of how Virginia sports bettors wagered for the first 11 months of 2021:

Sport Percentage of Total Handle Gross Amount Wagered
Pro Basketball 21.51% $592.2 Million
Parlays18.45% $516.6 Million
Football17.36%$486.08 Million
Baseball 11.48%$321.44 Million
Tennis9.86%$276.08 Million
College Basketball6.25%$175 Million
Soccer5.74% $160.72 Million
Other3.69%$103.32 Million
Hockey2.28%$63.84 Million
Golf1.61%$45.08 Million
MMA 0.64%$17.92 Million
Boxing0.62%$17.36 Million
Olympic Games 0.49%$13.72 Million

Basketball tops the list

No sport was more popular in Virginia than basketball.

NBA games were the most bet on sport in the state, making up 21.2% of the overall handle. But when you add the additional 6.3% from college basketball, the gap between basketball and other sports becomes even wider.

Gamblers wagered $592.2 million on professional basketball and another $175 million on the college game. That number would go up significantly if legislators would remove the ban on in-state collegiate athletics.

With the success of Virginia’s college basketball programs, it’s no surprise the market is keen on betting on it. The University of Virginia is just a few years removed from a national title in 2019 and there were five Virginia colleges in last year’s NCAA tournament.

However, when given the choice, football was the go-to for bettors.

In November 2021, when there were both basketball and football games to choose from, football made up 32.1% of the monthly handle. As opposed to 23.1% for professional basketball and another 8.1% for college.

Photo by AP / Corey Sipkin
Steve Schult Avatar
Written by
Steve Schult

Steve Schult has covered the gambling world for the last decade. With stints as a staff writer for the World Series of Poker and Bluff Magazine, as well as the online content manager for Card Player Media, the New York native covered high-stakes poker tournaments and the overall casino industry. He’ll shift most of his focus to the Virginia, Maryland and Florida markets as a managing editor for Catena Media.

View all posts by Steve Schult