Parlay Betting Guide

Updated on April 2, 2020

While single-game wagering is the backbone of many sports betting strategies, there are times when bettors want a little more bang for their buck. After all, who doesn’t like the chance to earn exceptional returns on a small outlay?

Parlay betting is one of the ways that bettors can make that dream a reality. While not easy to hit, the returns can be outstanding. As such, parlay betting is extremely popular, especially with recreational bettors and those looking to build bankroll.

A parlay bet is a wager that includes multiple wagers on a single ticket. The ticket can include as few as two games all the way up to 10+, depending on the rules at the sportsbook you are placing your wagers at.

In order for these bets to be graded as winners, each of the wagers – or legs – on the ticket must be correct. So if you bet a four-team parlay and are only right on three of the games, you’re out of luck.

That’s the basics behind parlay betting, but there’s a lot more you need to know. We’re going to cover all of that right here.

What is Parlay Betting?

For a parlay bet, you’re combining multiple wagers on a single betting ticket. The more bets that are added to the ticket, the higher the potential return becomes. However, the odds of hitting all legs on the ticket rise with each addition.

As such, parlay bets are a high-risk, high-reward wager type. That doesn’t limit the appeal in the slightest, as parlays are among the most popular bets at legal and regulated sportsbooks. While challenging to hit regularly, the possibility of exceptional returns is quite the enticement.

A parlay bet can be placed on as few as two games. Sportsbook rules vary, but operators typically cap the number of games that can be placed on a single wager. It’s generally 10 or more before that applies, but consult the sportsbook where you plan to place your bet for specifics.

In order for the wager to be graded a winner, you need to be right about all legs. If you place a two-game point spread parlay and are only right on one of them, the ticket is a loser. The same applies if you wager on four totals on the same ticket and are only correct on three: the bet will be graded as a loss.

Parlay bets can be equal parts challenging and fun. They can be a welcome addition to the sports betting arsenal, but the chances of loss are high. As a result, many long-term sports bettors allocate a small portion of their bankroll for parlay and exotic wagers while using the bulk of their funds for bet types they deem to be more predictable.

Parlay Betting Examples

To fully understand how parlay bets work, it’s helpful to walk through a few different scenarios involving varying numbers of legs. Let’s begin by taking a look at a simple two-team moneyline parlay.

After examining a slate worth of NHL games, you find two contests to be particularly attractive. You handicap the two of them and come away with a clear choice on the winner of both of them.

  • Boston Bruins -135
  • Toronto Maple Leafs +115

Since you’re confident on both, you decide to add both games to a single parlay ticket. You’ll see the betting odds for the parlay wager on your ticket, but here’s how it works out and what you can expect the return to be on a standard one-unit wager if you’re correct.

  • Odds of -135 and +115 equal total parlay odds of +274
  • A $100 wager at odds of +274 equals potential return of $374.25 – the original wager plus a profit of $274.25.

That’s an excellent return if you’re correct in both cases, but the bet will be a loser if you’re only right on one of them.

Next, let’s take a look at a three-team point spread parlay. You find three games on the NFL docket that you really like and decide to tie them all together.

  • Cleveland Browns +1.5 (-105)
  • New England Patriots -3.5 (-115)
  • Dallas Cowboys -8 (-110)
  • Odds of -105, -115, and -110 equal total parlay odds of +597
  • A $100 wager at odds of +597 equals potential return of $696.86 – the original stake plus a profit of $596.86.

As you can see, the potential returns rise quickly as more legs are added to the ticket. For our final example, let’s say you like four different totals on a slate of NBA games. You decide to go for the gusto and tie them all together on a single slip.

  • Over 205.5 (-110)
  • Under 199.5 (-105)
  • Over 212.5 (-115)
  • Under 208.5 (-110)
  • Odds of -110, -105, -115, and -110 equal total parlay odds of +1230
  • A $100 wager at odds of +1230 equals potential return of $1,330.38 – the original stake plus a profit of $1,230.38.

Astronomical returns such as those in the example make it pretty easy to see the appeal of parlay bets. Even if you drop your stake down to small levels, you’re still looking at really nice returns.

  • $5 four-team parlay at odds of +1230 offers total potential return of $66.52.
  • $10 four-team parlay at odds of +1230 offers total potential return of $133.04.
  • $20 four-team parlay at odds of +1230 offers total potential return of $266.08.

And so on. The lure of outstanding returns makes parlay bets one of the most popular choices on the sports betting menu. As always, it’s important to manage your risk and be aware of the potential for losses.

Parlay Betting Odds and Line Moves

Parlay Betting ExampleFor each slate of games on the docket, oddsmakers release what are known as opening lines. In sports such as NBA, MLB, NHL, and College Basketball, lines will definitely be out the morning of the day of the games, but you can get a sneak peek the night before in some spots.

When it comes to weekly slates such as in the NFL or College Football, odds begin trickling in as the final games of the preceding week wind down and all will be released once everything is in the books for the schedule at hand.

After opening odds and spreads are released, the betting market gets its chance to weigh in. If a lot of action comes in one one side as opposed to the other, the lines can be adjusted by oddsmakers in a bid to even out the action more to their liking.

In addition, news that comes to the forefront after lines are released can lead to an adjustment. It has to be something significant to move the needle, such as an injury to a star player or a major trade, but this can also impact movement from release to game time.

Each of these shifts will have an impact on the odds for parlay wagers as well. For example, if one of the listed games opens at odds of -110 and then sees a significant amount of action, one side can be adjusted to -115 while the other is moved to -105.

The goal of oddsmakers is to make the side that they need additional action on even more appealing to bettors. For those who wager on games, it’s important to take into consideration the movement from release onward as it gives you a glimpse into public sentiment.

One other note to consider on line moves: odds and spreads can have a few ticks of difference between books. As such, it’s a good idea to engage in what’s known as line shopping – i.e. comparing the prices offered at different marketplaces.

If you find more appealing odds at one book over another, there’s nothing to stop you from taking your action to the place with the better prices for a slate of games.

How to Handicap Parlay Bets

Normal handicapping rules apply for parlay betting. You’ll want to treat each leg of the ticket as its own event and break it down accordingly.

To break down games, you can begin with a simple five-step process and work your way out from there.

  • Study the odds and any line moves
  • Consider the overall strength of the two teams
  • Factor in home/away performance as applicable
  • Examine stats that really move the needle
  • Review recent play for both sides

You can get more in-depth as time permits or as your experience grows, or you can also choose to keep it really simple. The choice is completely yours. There are bettors who have success with simple systems, some who kill it with an advanced approach, and plenty of others in the middle who find a balance that works best for their approach.

When handicapping parlays specifically, it can help to focus on the games you are most confident about. It’s tough hitting multi-team tickets, so it makes sense to only include those that you rate highly as legs on the parlay.

However, there are alternative approaches that can be taken. For example, let’s say you identify a pair of underdogs on a slate of College Basketball games that you like to win outright. A parlay with both of them could provide some serious bang for the buck.

Consider the return possibilities for two underdogs on the same ticket with the following odds.

  • Odds of +110 and +145 equal parlay odds of +415.
  • Potential return on a $100 wager equals $514.50 – the $100 original bet plus a return of $414.50.

A hybrid approach with elements of both strategies – most confident and underdogs you like – makes sense as well. In the end, it all comes down to what makes the most sense for your overall strategy and bankroll management.

How to Place a Parlay Bet

Legal and regulated online and mobile sportsbook operators make it very simple to build a parlay ticket. When you find the choices you like, clicking on them will typically bring up a new window. Included among the options is something along the lines of ‘add to betslip.’

Click on that choice and continue adding wagers until the parlay is built out with all of the legs you want to include. You can focus your parlays on moneylines, spreads or totals, or you can mix it up a bit.

The same applies for sports as you can do a parlay which includes games from different leagues, such as one NBA spread, one NHL moneyline, and one College Basketball total.

Please note that you can’t include two choices from the same fame on one ticket – i.e. spread and total. However, if you click on prop wagers for the game at hand, there will generally be ‘in-game’ parlay options to explore such as side and total or spread and total.

Once you have all of the legs added, it’s just a matter of entering your stake. You’ll be able to see the potential return based on the parlay odds right away. You can then adjust the amount of the wager as needed or click submit if you’re comfortable with what you see.

Before clicking on submit, it’s always a good idea to review all of the legs you have included. This little step can help prevent mistakes, which can happen pretty easily when building out a multi-team ticket.

Odds of winning a parlay bet

So you can easily figure out the potential return on a parlay bet by adding legs to a betting slip, but what are the actual odds of hitting a parlay?

The answer to that question depends upon the amount of games you have added to the ticket. For each choice that’s included on the slip, the chances of being correct on all of them go down.

That’s partially why you see such astronomical returns on big parlay tickets as the chances of it actually happening aren’t great. However, don’t take that to mean that it can’t be done. It certainly can, just don’t count on it being a regular occurence.

After all, if it was that easy to hit 10-team parlay tickets, sportsbooks would be quick to adjust potential returns accordingly.

For an average parlay in which all of the odds are at the standard of -110, here’s a safe benchmark of an odds scale to use.

  • Two-team parlay: 13-5
  • Three-team parlay: 6-1
  • Four-team parlay: 10-1
  • Five-team parlay: 25-1
  • Six-team parlay: 40-1
  • Seven-team parlay: 75-1
  • Eight-team parlay: 150-1
  • Nine-team parlay: 300-1
  • 10-team parlay: 600-1

As you can see, the odds rise with each selection added to the ticket. The chances of hitting a two-team parlay aren’t too bad, but a 10-team parlay coming in requires a good deal of lady luck on your side.

Once again, don’t let that discourage you from taking your shots with parlays. If you practice solid bankroll management and keep yourself disciplined with more reasonable wagers elsewhere, there’s nothing wrong with taking a shot at a parlay with an amount you feel comfortable with.

One other note to keep in mind: legal and regulated sportsbooks run promos all the time. Keep your eyes out for ‘parlay insurance’ promotions. In general, the operator will provide you with insurance on a four- or five-team parlay.

If one of your legs is a loser, you’ll get a refund of your wager up to a certain amount. For those who plan to bet on parlays regularly, promotions such as these can be quite bankroll friendly as many a parlay has been ruined by a single incorrect leg.

The Bottom Line on Parlay Bets

A parlay bet is a wager in which multiple choices are included on a single betting slip. A minimum of two selections is required, and books can cap the total number of choices that can be included somewhere north of 10.

The chances of being correct on all legs of a parlay lessen with each selection that’s added to the ticket. It’s an inverse relationship when it comes to returns, as the potential rises with each leg added.

Normal handicapping rules apply for parlays. You’ll want to consider each leg as an individual event and break it down accordingly. You can take a safe approach and only include choices you are most comfortable with, or you can shoot for bigger returns by focusing on underdogs.

A mix of the two approaches is perfectly fine as well. From a bottom line perspective, parlays are high-risk, high-reward wagers that are quite popular at sportsbooks.

While it can be tough to generate consistent returns with them, it certainly makes sense to take some shots as part of a disciplined overall approach to sports betting.

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