Parlay bets are a popular form of sports betting, sometimes called combo bets. The basics of a parlay bet are simple – instead of making single bets on a number of different teams/outcomes, you make one bet on all of those outcomes.
Here’s the catch – if any of the outcomes you selected don’t occur, you lose the whole parlay bet.
To clarify, let’s look at an example from this past weekend’s NFL games. As I’m writing this article, I could place 3 $10 bets (for a total of $30), one on the Dolphins at -10.5, one on the Browns at +4.5, and one on the Lions at +3.0. If I’m right ⅔ times, I’ll end up in the black.
With a $30 parlay bet on the same outcomes, if I was only right ⅔ times, I’d end up losing my whole $30 wager.
Are Parlays a Good Bet?
The short answer: no. The much longer answer is going to take the rest of this article to explain, but if you’re relatively new to sports betting and you’re looking to properly manage your bankroll and give yourself the best edge, you usually don’t want to go for parlays.
That said, everything has its exception. For the rest of this article, we’re going to look at what makes parlay bets so attractive, why they should be avoided in most cases, where parlay betting might be acceptable, how teasers compare to parlays, and what sports we provide parlay picks for.
Why do People Love Parlay Bets?
Parlay bets are high-risk, high-reward. That’s why, except in some corner cases, many professional bettors avoid parlay betting. That’s also what makes them so exciting – the payout for a parlay bet can seem a lot higher than single betting (seem is the key word, here).
Let’s take our $30 NFL wager as an example. Assuming the bets are at -110 and all three teams win, our payout for single bets would be $9.09 per $10, for a total of $27.27 profit. Three team parlays, on the other hand, tend to pay 6 to 1, so a $30 parlay bet would pay out a whopping $180. Sure, your risk is higher, but you make a lot more money – right?
Not quite. Let’s look at parlay payouts, and how they actually compare to non-parlay betting strategies.
Like a magician doing sleight of hand, the example given above was used as a bit of misdirection, so you can fully understand what attracts so many novice and casual gamblers to parlay betting – the numbers seem huge. Realistically, however, we weren’t doing a 1-to-1 comparison of payouts, because the odds weren’t the same. The odds of winning at least ⅔ games (and thus making a profit) are 50%, while the odds of all three teams winning are ⅛.
Note that this doesn’t take ties into account – the odds are a bit different than what we’ve presented here (for simplicity) – we have a whole section on ties where we do a deeper dive into the true odds.
That means, to do an accurate comparison of parlay payouts to single betting payouts, we need to look at things differently. That’s what we’re going to do now:
What does a 2 Team $25 Parlay Pay?
The parlay odds for 2 teams usually pay out 13/5. That means a successful $25 parlay pays out $65. Here’s the question: what would happen if we were doing the equivalent of a parlay bet in single bets?
Imagine we bet $25 at -110 on the first team. We’d make a profit of $22.73. Were we then to bet $47.73 on the second team at -110, we’d get paid out $43.39, for a total profit of 66.12$ – 1.12 more than if we had made a parlay bet. In other words, at standard parlay odds going all in on two single bets pays out better than parlay betting.
What does a 2 Team $50 Parlay Pay?
We can use the exact same math for a $50 parlay. At 13/5 odds (a 2.6 multiplier), a successful 2 team parlay pays out $130.
Following the same math we did before, a $50 bet on a team at -110 pays out $45.45. Take the $95.45 we’ve got now, put it all on the second team at -110, and you’re paid out $86.77. Combine our profits, and we’re up $132.22 – again, objectively better than a parlay payout at equal odds.
What does a 3 Team $100 Parlay Pay?
Here’s where things get really interesting. 3 team parlay odds usually pay out 6/1, so a $100 bet pays out $600. What happens if we apply our same all-in method on three single bets? Assuming -110 odds:
Bet 1 of $100 pays out $90.91 ($90.91 in profits)
Bet 2 of $190.91 pays out $173.55 ($264.46 in profits).
Bet 3 of $364.46 pays out $331.33 ($595.79 in profits)
Here, the edge actually goes to parlay betting over single betting the same odds. This is one of the edge cases where parlay betting can be to your advantage.
The Parlay Betting Chart
The multiple all-in single bets we made have a name: “true odds” betting, that is, what a parlay would pay if a bookie was using the true odds (instead of the parlay chart) for each individual event occurring with a maximized bet each time. We’ll talk a bit more about true odds in a bit, but for now, take a look at this chart:
Parlay vs. True Odds Betting Chart ($100 bet at -110)
|# of wagers (parlay payout ratio)||Standard parlay payout||True odds payout|
Now you can see why so many people look at parlays as a “sucker’s bet” – unless you’re betting a 3 team parlay, you’re better off betting the true odds.
Exceptions to Every Rule
This chart is assuming two things – standard parlay payouts, and standard single bet payouts. Things can change pretty drastically, however, if there are reduced juice payouts (at -105), or better parlay payouts (some places might, for example, pay 6.5x for a three team parlay).
Always do your research, and try to find the spots with the best payout for the odds. It takes some calculating, but that’s the name of the game with sports betting.
What Happens if You Tie on a Parlay Bet?
Here’s where things get really wild – we won’t bore you with a math lesson, but parlay odds shift a bit when you consider ties. The good news: if you tie on a parlay bet, it doesn’t ruin the parlay – it changes it.
What Happens if the Over/Under is Exact in a Parlay?
So far, we’ve only talked about point spread parlays, but bookies love working with money, and you can parlay bet in a wide variety of ways, including over/under. An interesting thing to note: over/under bets will often have different odds than your standard -110 point spread bet, and when there are different odds on your parlay bets, it forces bookies to use true odds instead of the standard parlay ratio.
With that out of the way, if the over/under is exact in a parlay bet, that portion of the parlay bet is pushed. Note that this is impossible in over/under bets where the point totals include a decimal (like +/- 42.5 in the NFL).
Does a Push Ruin a Parlay?
No – no matter how you bet your parlay, if one of your bets is pushed, it does not ruin the whole parlay bet. In “true odds” parlays, the bet is simply removed from the parlay, and the parlay is recalculated. In standard ratio parlays, the bet is removed and the ratio is recalculated – a 3 team parlay with one tie paying at 6/1, for example, would become a 2 team parlay paying at 13/5.
How do You Bet a Moneyline Parlay?
The only reason to bet a moneyline parlay (or an over/under parlay where the odds differ) is efficiency – they use the true odds method, since moneyline bets aren’t standardized in the same way most point spread bets are. In other words, if you were to make a $100 moneyline parlay bet at +210 and +160, and you won, you’d get $706.
Bet $100 at +210 – win $210 ($210 profit)
Bet $310 at +160 – win $496 ($706 profit)
For this reason, single betting moneyline is strictly better than parlay betting moneyline – your odds are exactly the same, and it gives you more control over your bankroll.
Are Teasers Better than Parlays?
In a word – no. Teasers are parlays in which you can adjust the point spread in order to improve your odds – but that adjusted point spread comes at a cost. When you adjust your point spread, the payout you can receive is significantly worse, to the point that if you adjust the point spread by 6 points, you’d need about a 6 team parlay to get the 6 to 1 odds offered by a standard parlay. As you can probably guess, the odds of having 6 successful bets, even with a 6 point spread adjustment, are significantly worse than the normal point spread odds of a 3 team parlay.
Can You Parlay the First Half?
That depends what you mean! Can you parlay the first half of two different games? Absolutely. Can you parlay the first half of a game and the end of that game? No. Those two things are considered correlated events.
A point spread might have a team at +6.5 in the first half and +10.5 at the end of a game. Assuming the team has +7 by the end of the first half, it’s exceedingly likely that they’ll have at least +11 by the end of the game, since that’s around what the bookies are predicting. Allowing a parlay bet on these two dependent odds would be too favorable to bettors, so they don’t allow it.
Parlays as Part of a Betting Strategy
To end, let’s reflect on the first question we asked: are parlays a good bet? As you (hopefully) understand by now, in most cases they aren’t. That said, if you think you’ve got an edge on three point spreads, and you’re confident enough that you would rebet the maximum on each team anyway, a 6x or 6.5x parlay bet would be to your advantage. It all depends on how you want to manage your bankroll.
To this end, we offer sports handicapping services for parlay bets in all major US sports, including NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, NCAAB & NCAAF. If you think the advice we presented here is good, just wait until you see the insights we offer our premium members!