What Is A Parlay Bet: How It Works, Examples & Strategies

With the explosion of online sports betting in recent years, there are a lot more punters out there making sports bets, and one of the most popular ways to do it has been with parlay bets. Parlay betting has grown in popularity, but how do parlays work? And is a parlay bet the kind of wager everyone should be making? We’ll break down everything you need to know about parlays right here!

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What Is A Parlay Bet?

Bettors have been spoiled with how many different ways there are to bet on sports nowadays. You can make a classic single bet, you can bet on games live while the game is going on, and you can bet from wherever you might be right from your phone. Arguably the most popular way to bet right now, however, is parlay betting.

A parlay bet is made up of two or more markets which are pooled together into one wager. Each market in your parlay is called a ‘leg’ and the odds for each leg are multiplied by each other to create your parlay odds, which means the more legs you have in your parlay, the higher your payout will be.

However, with each leg you add to your parlay, the implied probability of hitting your bet is also reduced, which means your bet has higher risk attached to it as well. It’s a high risk, high reward kind of bet, so beginners should try and avoid getting sucked into parlay betting when they’re first getting started in the sports wagering game.

Types of Parlay Bets

Parlay betting is a wide open way to make your bets because a parlay can include anywhere from two legs to an unlimited number of legs. There are a few common types of parlay bets that you should be aware of before you start betting, so we’ve broken them down here.

  • Two leg Parlay Bet: The simplest kind of parlay bet, also known as a double, this kind of parlay includes two betting markets packaged together into one bet. This is the best way to start off betting on parlays because you only need two bets to hit for your parlay to win. This means that while your payout is significantly larger, you’re still mitigating the risk on your bet.

  • Three leg Parlay Bet: This type of parlay bet is also known as a treble and consists of a trio of bets rolled into one parlay. This is one of the most popular ways to do your parlay betting because while your payout is being tripled compared to three single bets, you’re also not relying on an unreasonable amount of outcomes to go your way, so you’re still keeping your risk levels relatively low.

  • 4+ leg Parlay Bet: After the double and the treble is where parlays really start to get dicy. Most sports betting sites have limits on how many legs you can include in a parlay, but those limits are so high that it’s unlikely that you’re going to end up dealing with that issue. These big time parlays have become all the rage largely because sportsbooks have used them to deftly market themselves on social media when a lucky bettor does hit a parlay of this size. In reality, four or five legs is probably the highest you should go, as anything with six or more is getting into territory where it’s more about dumb luck than anything.

  • Same Game Parlay Bet: When online sports betting was first getting started parlays would only be allowed for markets that weren’t coming from the same game, but now most sportsbooks have added the same game parlay to their arsenal. This is a great way for sharp bettors to get extra value on their picks because all you need to do is get a solid grasp on how two teams matchup in one game rather than a handful of games. Same game parlays are also where you can do correlated parlays, where one leg hitting increases the likelihood of another leg hitting as well.

Teasers vs. Parlays

Teasers are often confused with parlays, but they are not quite the same, so we thought it would be useful to differentiate the two for you here. Teasers are much more specific and are much more common in football than any other sport. A teaser bet is a bet where you’re moving the point spread in a direction that suits you.

The similarities between teasers and parlays begin and end with this: you can group together multiple teams, a minimum of two and a maximum of 15, to tease together. Usually teasers will have the point spread of all your selections shifted an equal amount, for NFL teasers that number is almost always six points in your favor.

For example, say you want to take a teaser with the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are -4.5 point favorites over the Baltimore Ravens, the Minnesota Vikings, who are -7.5 favorites over the Green Bay Packers, and the Philadelphia Eagles, who are +2.5 underdogs to the Dallas Cowboys. With those selections, your teaser spreads would look like this:

  • Pittsburgh Steelers +2.5 over the Baltimore Ravens
  • Minnesota Vikings -1.5 over the Green Bay Packers
  • Philadelphia Eagles +8.5 over the Dallas Cowboys

How to Build A Parlay: Tips & Strategies

There is a lot to consider when putting together a parlay because they’re much riskier than a single bet. You have to be perfect, which is a big ask for any bettor. The first thing you want to decide on is how many legs you’re going to make your parlay. While the sky's the limit in terms of how many legs you’re allowed to include in your parlay, you want to keep it reasonable if you’re going to have a real shot at hitting every leg and winning your bet.

We recommend sticking to somewhere between a double and a five-leg parlay, as that limits your exposure somewhat while also giving you the advantage of the higher odds of a parlay bet. With each leg you add, you’re lowering the likelihood that your parlay is going to hit, so make sure you take that into account.

The next thing you want to think about is what kind of parlay you want to do: is it going to be a favorites parlay, or an underdogs parlay, or a mix of the two, or a same game parlay, or a player prop parlay. There are lots of different avenues to go, but it’s usually helpful to try and stick to one type of bet because you want to limit how much research and handicapping you have to do.

A popular way to go about parlays is to stack together several bets on favorites with very low odds. Adding 3-5 markets at very low odds is a way to bet on markets you feel good about but whose odds are prohibitive on their own. With a parlay, you can add those sure things together to get yourself into + territory odds wise and make your bet more worthwhile.

How to Calculate Parlay Odds?

Figuring out the odds on your parlay before you add it to your bet slip can seem a bit tricky when using American odds because of how the odds are expressed. The process to figure out the odds on your parlay bet is actually simpler than you thought, however. All you’ll need is the odds on the bets you want to include in your parlay and an odds converter.

You start by converting the American odds of your picks into their equivalent in Decimal odds. Then, all you need to do is multiply all of those Decimal odds together, convert the resulting number back to American odds, and voila! Here’s an example where you’ve got markets with -150, -110, and -105 odds:

  • 150 → 1.67
  • 110 → 1.91
  • 105 → 1.95

Multiply those three together: 1.67 x 1.91 x 1.95 = 6.22. Decimal odds at 6.22 converted back to American odds results in parlay odds at +522. That means a $100 bet nets you $522 in profit.

There’s an even simpler way to calculate your odds if you're only using bets with standard -110 odds. A double pays about 2.6 to 1, around +260 in American odds, and a triple pays about 6 to 1, or around +600 in American odds. After that, each -110 bet you add to the parlay will roughly double the odds.

Parlay Betting: Pros & Cons

In this section, we will delve into the pros and cons of parlay betting to help you make an informed decision about whether or not it is the right choice for you.

The Downside Of Parlay Betting

Apart from the sportsbooks themselves or publications getting paid by the sportsbooks, most places you go to read up on sports betting will tell you that parlay betting is not the smart way to bet. Parlays require perfection. If you make five different singles bets and hit on four of them, you’re going to come out with a profit because four of your bets cashed out.

However, if you bundle those five bets together into a parlay and you hit four of the five, you don’t win anything. It’s a high risk, high reward situation, but the risk is so great that usually it’s not worth the reward. You can even check the revenue breakdown from any legal betting market, you’ll find that sportsbooks usually keep the lion’s share of the money they take for parlays, and by a pretty wide margin as well.

The fact that sportsbooks are marketing parlays so well doesn’t help either. Parlays are not an impossibility; many do hit for big-time money. While those rare wins are a mere drop in the bucket, sportsbooks market those wins as if they happen all the time. This misconception is what leads to so many bettors wasting their money on parlay betting when really they should stick to singles.

The Upside Of Parlay Betting

While that all makes parlay betting sound like the devil in sports betting form, the drawbacks are not the end all be all of parlay bets. Betting is not always about making money over the long term, sometimes it’s just about the fun of betting. It’s fun to sweat small bets that could win big, that’s why the lottery is a multi-billion dollar a year industry.

If you’ve got disposable income to spare, parlay betting can be a lot of fun, because it adds a level of entertainment to the game you’re watching. If you’re betting responsibly and you enjoy the extra excitement of a possible big win on a long shot bet, then have your fun and make those parlay bets.

That is really the biggest pro of parlay betting: the possibility of your high risk parlay coming in and bringing you that high reward everybody dreams about. Some safer parlays are also a good way to give yourself more value on bets that are offering prohibitive odds on their own.

FAQs

To supplement our parlay betting guide we’ve put together a list with answers to some of the most common questions we come across with regards to parlay bets.

What happens if one of the bets pushes?

If one of the legs of your parlay is a push, that selection will simply be removed from the bet since you didn’t win or lose it.

What’s the difference between teaser bets and parlays?

Teasers are most common in football betting, and they are bets where you can move the point spread to something more palatable for you. The only similarity is that you can select several teams in your teaser bet, much like a parlay.

What happens to my parlay bet in a canceled game?

Generally, sportsbooks will simply void that leg of the parlay and a three-leg parlay will become a two-leg parlay. If it’s a same game parlay, your bet will be voided and stake returned.

Can I parlay prop bets?

Yes, you can parlay any number of props together at most sportsbooks, but some do not allow this.

Can you parlay markets from the same game?

Yes, you can parlay multiple markets from the same game with most sportsbooks, but not all of them offer same game parlays.

Are correlated parlays allowed?

Yes, while most sportsbooks used to outlaw them, most correlated parlays are allowed. If the correlation isn’t too obvious it shouldn’t affect your parlay odds, but if the correlation is clear as day, the sportsbook will throttle your odds significantly, making the parlay pointless.

Can I parlay the money line and spread from the same game?

No, most sportsbooks will not allow this as the correlation is too clear and obvious.

Is a parlay a good bet?

In terms of win probability, a parlay is not a good bet when compared to a single, though it does offer higher payouts.

Conclusion

Parlay betting can be loads of fun and add an extra level of entertainment to a lot of sports, but it’s a pretty tough way to consistently win money. Parlay bets are a classic high risk, high reward proposition, so we hope that our guide has helped you to get a good grasp on when it’s appropriate to take the big risk that a parlay bet entails for that big reward that they also bring. Happy sports betting!