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What is a Parlay Bet?
A parlay is a sports bet in which you combine multiple individual bets. You must win the entire combination of bets or you lose. It’s that simple.
To choose a parlay wager, you first select at least two standard wagers you like. It could include bets against the spread, moneyline wagers, or the over/under. The more bets you make for your parlay, the more you can win. But there’s always a caveat. Once you start getting into four or higher team parlays, they become extremely difficult to win.
What makes parlays so difficult is you have to win 100% of your games. Whereas, with regular bets against the spread, for example, you only need to win around 60 percent to turn a profit. Parlays can sometimes be frustrating because you could conceivably run pretty hot and still lose. We’ve had some parlay losers where we actually won around 70 percent of the games.
But there’s certainly a ton of upside and some great benefits to betting parlays as opposed to just straight wagers. If all you’re doing is betting individual games against the spread, you’re limiting how much you can win. A $110 bet typically only pays a $100 profit, which really isn’t that great.
Sure, if you’re really good at betting the spread or over/unders and you get in enough volume, you’ll make a nice living. You still won’t make as much if you become skilled at betting parlays, however. The profit potential on parlays is much higher.
How to Bet on a Parlay?
Ready to start making parlay bets? That’s great. We’re going to help you get started. The first thing you need is an online sportsbook. Better yet, two or three online sportsbooks. The reason we say that is because we want to make sure you have access to the best lines at all times.
You see, when it comes to sports betting, you’ll often find differing lines on the same game at separate places. For that reason, it’s best if you use at least two or three sportsbooks to ensure you’re always getting the best odds.
After you’re all signed up for your online sportsbook(s) of choice, you need to start selecting games to include in your parlay. Most sports bettors use 3-5 team parlays. But others are more risky and go for the massive scores with 6+ team parlays. We aren’t going to discourage you from doing so, but please understand that the odds of winning aren’t great. Let’s take a look at standard offshore parlay odds.
(Please note: odds may slightly differ at certain sportsbooks)
|# of Teams
And now the odds you’ll get at most Las Vegas sportsbooks:
|# of Teams
So, as you can see, you get better odds at an online sportsbook. Casinos in Vegas have massive overhead to cover so they can’t provide as favorable of odds. They have to pay for those massive hotels and fancy clubs somehow. Ripping off gamblers is one way they raise that money.
Now that you understand the basic odds, let’s move onto the next step. And that is to choose your games and teams. You can select a mix of moneyline, against the spread, and over/under bets. But it should be noted that when you bet the moneyline, it will either increase or lower the parlay odds. If you’re including underdogs in your parlay, the odds will become more favorable and vice versa if you’re betting the favorites straight up.
The reason the odds decline if you’re betting all favorites straight up (moneyline) is because doing so makes the parlay easier to win. Let’s say you choose five teams that are -500 to win. The sportsbook isn’t going to give you the standard 20/1 odds. Instead, you’ll get about 1.4/1 simply because the odds of winning all five of those games is pretty strong. We’ll get more into parlay odds calculations in the next section.
Okay, so you’re ready to pick teams. You can choose any games you want. Simply log into your online sportsbook, choose the sport you’re betting, and select “parlay.” Then choose the games and type of bet you want for each game. Yes, you can select the point spread and over/under on the same game.
Once you’ve chosen your teams, look at your betting ticket and make sure everything is correct. Check the payout to ensure you didn’t make any mistakes. Also, be certain you’re satisfied with the potential payout. Then, hit “submit.” You can’t get a refund once you’ve placed a bet at most sportsbooks, so be certain you’re satisfied with your bet before placing the wager.
To give you an idea of what a parlay wager looks like, we have a few examples of both wins and losses.
3-team ($100 bet at 6/1 odds to pay $600) LOST
- Washington Redskins +4.5 (WIN)
- Baltimore Ravens -2.5 (WIN)
- Steelers/Jaguars OVER 40.5 (LOSE)
4-team ($100 bet at 12.28/1 odds to pay $1,228) WIN
- Chicago Bears +2.5 (WIN)
- Indianapolis Colts +3.5 (WIN)
- Bears/Texans OVER 41.5 (WIN)
- Chargers/Chiefs OVER 44.5 (WIN)
For these two examples, we ran just 50 percent but still turned a $1,028 profit. Not bad. This is why betting parlays is so enticing. If you hit 50 percent when betting individual games against the point spread, you lose.
Calculating Parlay Odds
For a parlay bet to win, each of your wagers must win. Some sportsbooks have “ties win” parlays with lower odds. That means you still win your bet if one game ends in a tie. However, the odds decline in that case. So, if you have, say, a 4-team parlay at 12.28/1 odds and one game ends in a tie, the parlay then becomes a 3-team parlay and you would then get a 6/1 payout.
That isn’t always the case, however. Some sportsbooks require all bets to win and if you get a tie, you lose the entire wager.
Calculating standard parlay odds based on a -110 line – the standard for point spread and point totals bets – is easy. You can use the table from above. If the line on one or more of the games isn’t -110, the odds will shift. We’ll discuss this in the next section.
How to Figure True Odds in a Parlay Bet
As we just mentioned the above table only shows standard parlay odds based on all games having a -110 line. But that isn’t always the case. In fact, many times you’ll have a game or two where the line is above or below -110. And for those instances, we get what’s called “true odds.” These odds differ from standard parlay odds.
To help you learn how to calculate true odds, we’ll use a three-team parlay as an example.
- Baltimore Ravans -150
- Green Bay Packers -120
- Dallas Cowboys +170
These are three moneyline bets, meaning all three teams must win straight up or you lose the bet. A moneyline bet differs from a point spread wager in that your teams must win their games outright and the margin of victory doesn’t matter.
To calculate the true odds, you simply divide the total payout by the amount risked. For this example, we’ll assume a $100 bet on the parlay.
- In the Ravens game, you get -150 odds to win $100. So, you take $250 (150 + 100) and divide is by 150, which equals 1.666
- In the Packers game, you get -120 odds to win $100. So, you take $220/120 which equals 1.833.
- In the Cowboys game, you bet $100 at +170 odds. So, you take $270/100 which equals 2.7.
Next, you multiply the three equations (1.666 x 1.833 x 2.7) and you get 8.245. That is the true odds. So if you bet $100 and win, you’ll multiple that amount by 8.245 ($824.50) to get the total payout. If you subtract that by $100 ($724.50), you’ll see the net profit.
Not every parlay is the same. There are many different types of parlays. The first one is just what we’ve been discussing. And that is a standard bet of 2 or more teams where every bet must come through and ties lose. The next one is the same except ties don’t lose but the odds are slightly less favorable.
A completely different type of parlay is called a teaser. And it’s one of the most fun ways to bet on sports. Teasers operate the same parlay except you get or give points in each game. That makes them easier to win and, with that, the odds decline. But you can still win a bunch of money. That’s the best part of it.
A teaser is a great way of getting the point spread to a spot you like. Let’s say you have three games that you’re considering for a parlay but you don’t think you’re quite getting enough points to make the bet worthwhile. We’ll use the following example:
- New England Patriots -3.5
- Chicago Bears +4.5
- Kansas City Chiefs -6.5
If you’re on the fence with those spreads, instead of betting a parlay, you should tease team. The new lines become +2.5 (New England), +10.5 (Chicago), and -0.5 (Kansas City), assuming a six-point teaser. You can also get 6.5 and seven-point teasers for lesser odds.
You don’t have to bet the point spreads, however. Betting point totals (over/unders) is also available and works the same way as if you’re teasing the point spreads. So, if the over/under is set at 42.5 and you tease it to a more favorable OVER, the line would become 36.5, which is easier to win. That’s the whole point of a teaser bet.
Teasers aren’t just available on football games. You can also bet them on basketball. In basketball, teasers are from 4-5 points. Like standard parlays, some sportsbooks offer “Ties Win” teasers. Make sure you check the sportsbook’s rules before placing your wager. We’d hate for you to get an unpleasant surprise.
Pros and Cons of Betting Parlays
Like any type of gambling, there are some negatives involved to betting parlays. And there are also some positive. Let’s take a look at the good and bad side of parlay wagering.
- Risk a little to win a lot: You can’t win as much for the same wager amount betting the point spread or the totals as you can on a parlay. That’s what makes this type of bet so enticing, especially to gamblers who have dreams of striking it rich.
- Bigger payout when you’re running hot: One thing we hate is when we have a day where our point spread wagers are coming through. It’s those days we wish we had parlayed the games so we could have won more.
- Fun way to bet: It’s just more exciting to bet a parlay than a straight wager. There’s more to be won and you are forced to follow multiple games. The potential to win big is really what gambling is all about.
- Smaller bets: We’ve already discussed the fact that you can risk a little to win a lot. But the other side of that coin is simply that it’s nice to be able to get some action on the cheap. Everyone knows if you’re ever going to make the big bucks betting individual games, you have to bet a ton every game. You don’t need to do that when you’re betting parlays.
- Will only win a small percentage of bets: It’s a lot more difficult to win a parlay than a single bet because you need a series of wagers to come through or you lose. That’s the downside. But, hey, it wouldn’t be gambling if there wasn’t risk involved. Play to win big!
- Long losing streaks: The most frustrating part of betting parlays is you’ll often go cold. Some days are going to be absolutely brutal. You’ll have days where you’re actually doing well picking winners but are still losing. That’s the life of a parlay bettor.
- Can crush your bankroll if you aren’t careful: Long losing streaks cause a dent in your bankroll. If you are only betting parlays, you better have a massive bankroll because one bad run, and it will happen eventually, could leave you broke.
Betting Strategy: 5 Tips to Success Betting Parlays
By now, assuming you haven’t skipped ahead to this section, you understand what a parlay is and how to calculate the odds. You also know of the pros and cons and different types of parlays. Now you’re ready to start learning how to actually win betting parlays. And for that we have five expert tips that will increase your chances of becoming a winning player.
Tip #1: Avoid filling your parlay up with moneyline heavy favorites
Sure, there’s more value in grouping together heavy moneyline favorites into a parlay instead of betting them each individually, but there really isn’t much of a point. If just one upset occurs, you’re screwed. So, while it may seem profitable to bet on four or five teams at -200 or lower in one parlay, don’t even bother. You’ll basically get even money.
The whole point of a parlay is to risk a little with the potential of winning a lot. If all you’re getting is even money, you’re eliminating that purpose. Go for the big win. That’s how you create value with your parlay bets.
Tip #2: Don’t fall in love with 5-plus team parlays
Sure, we’d all love to hit that 150/1 shot. But losing all your money isn’t much fun. The fact of the matter is when you’re betting the big parlays you’re rarely going to win. It’s much easier to win a 2-4 teamer than a 5-8 teamer.
While you might be thinking, “you’ve been advocating going for a big payday this entire article,” and you’d be correct. But that doesn’t mean you should get carried away and chase unrealistic wins. You can still win big betting the 2-4 team parlays, especially if you’re a skilled sports bettor. But even the best gamblers have a hard time winning an eight-teamer. With that said, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally going for the massive score. Just don’t make it a regular habit.
Tip #3: Don’t chase your losses
If you’ve been losing for quite some time, there’s a reason for that. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck and you’re running bad. But in many cases, you’re losing because you aren’t a very good sports bettor. If it’s the former, don’t worry, your luck will turn around eventually. If it’s the former, you need to start doing more research on trends.
Either way, if you’re losing money, don’t chase your losses. Make smart wagers and don’t focus on short-term bad luck. Those who do their homework and put in the effort required to win will turn a nice profit over the long-term.
Tip #4: Put in exhaustive research
A winning gambler is a prepared gambler. That means studying so much that you know more than the oddsmakers. If you aren’t better than the oddsmakers, it’s kind of hard to win. The best gamblers find a leak in the oddsmakers’ line-setting formula.
You find that edge by putting in research on the trends, matchups, and injury report. A true sports bettor doesn’t just throw darts to pick winners. They avoid games where the oddsmakers are spot on. To locate those games, you need to spend time getting to know the teams and trends. If you can find a mismatch that the oddsmakers missed, you’ll make some money.
Tip #5: Always search for the best lines and odds
Don’t think for one second that a half a point doesn’t matter. And the odds are equally important. We can’t stress enough the importance of using multiple online sportsbooks. We use three at a time so that we’re never worried about having access to the best lines and odds.
Imagine winning the first three games of your parlay and it all comes down to Team A being a 3.5 point favorite that you need to cover but they only win by 3. It would be soul-crushing if you found out after the fact that a different sportsbook was offering Team A at -3 and a “Ties Win” parlay. You just can’t risk missing out on the best lines.