Parlay Bets: Everything You Need to Know

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There are few things more rewarding in all of sports betting than nailing a parlay. A parlay is a single wager that consists of two or more individual bets combined. If a single aspect of the parlay card loses, the entire wager loses. But if all of the picks win, the payout is much higher than if you had made each bet individually.

If you’ve never heard of parlay bets, this guide should be particularly eye-opening. You’re about to be introduced to a form of gambling that requires minimal risk, despite offering, at times, astronomical payouts. In fact, you actually determine just how well these parlays pay. The more individual wagers you include on your card, the higher the return. Just remember, a single loss ruins the whole thing.

For our more experienced readers, we’ve included some advanced concepts in here for you as well. After defining what parlay bets are, and explaining how the earnings are calculated, we’ll discuss some parlay betting strategies and how to improve your odds of winning. The fact of the matter is the idea behind parlays is simple, but the ways to use them to your advantage can be quite advanced.

Most professional sports handicappers would warn you to stay clear of parlay bets. The additional criteria to win makes them unlikely to be successful, but that’s also why they pay out so well! We are going to examine some techniques to use when deciding how to pair-up your bets on a parlay card to maximize your chances of coming out ahead.

Once you’ve completed this guide, you’ll be ready to get out there and start placing some winning combo bets. Just don’t forget about us little guys when you’re wealthy! The key is just to relax and take a deep breath. Enjoy this journey through the world of parlay betting!

Breaking Down a Parlay Bet

Say whatever you want about a parlay bet, but you can’t say they don’t offer tons of upside. We will get into the payout structure a bit later, but it is crucial to break down what a parlay bet actually consists of in its entirety.

A parlay is one of the many types of sports bets available, but parlay bets are where you combine multiple individual sports bets into one “card.” In order to win your parlay bet, you must win all of the different wagers that make up the parlay. Clearly, the more chances you have in your parlay, the harder it will be to win. In turn, the more bets you correctly group, the higher your potential payout.

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A cool thing about parlays is that your bets don't have to be related or even in the same sport

If you want to parlay a couple of football games with a basketball game and a UFC fight, then go right ahead. If you are feeling confident with multiple picks, that is your opportunity to parlay them together and hope for a pleasant payoff.

The rules of parlays can differ depending on which online sportsbook you are betting at. The same is true with the sportsbook in Las Vegas. Don’t be alarmed if you see two separate parlay cards that offer different payouts. We will go into further detail on this topic in the section below.

How Parlay Payouts Work?

Many sports bettors like parlays because they can risk a small amount of money and have the chance to win big. No arguments there as we all love huge payouts.

When you are considering making a parlay bet, it is essential to look at the payout structure before you make a bet. Just like any sports bet, you will want to make sure you are getting the best price for your wagers. The more chances you lump into one parlay, the more significant it will be to make sure you are correctly shopping the lines.

This is simply because of the nature of how the payouts work. A standard structure sheet that shows you the odds for a parlay is based upon each bet being a standard, -110 bet. Many sites use the standard payout format that you see below.

Number of Teams Payout
2 13/5
3 6/1
4 10/1
5 20/1
6 40/1
7 75/1
8 150/1

Take the 5-team parlay that pays 20/1 for example. We have seen sites that offer 22/1 on a 5-teamer. Believe it or not- one location even paid 25/1 if you successfully hit a 5-team parlay. You will come across ½ parlay cards where every bet “lands on a half-point,” thus guaranteeing no wagers will result in a tie.

Other sites will employ a rule that states that any bet that is part of a parlay that results in a tie just gets “wiped off” the card.

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For Example:

Let's say you bet a 4-team parlay and won 3 games and tied one. The sportsbook would merely pay you as if you won a 3-teamer, which would be 6/1.

We don’t want you to feel overwhelmed with all the numbers, and we don’t want to confuse you by telling you the payouts will vary depending on where you bet and what wagers are included. There are plenty of online parlay calculators you can use to figure out exactly how much a parlay will pay out when mixing in bets with different odds.

Benefits of Making Parlay Bets

Low Risk and Potentially High Reward

Risk RewardThe most appealing feature of parlay betting is that it’s the only kind of sports wager that allows you to bet on favorites to win without necessarily having to stake much money, plus it comes with an opportunity to receive a decent return. It’s undoubtedly the only sports bet that can turn a $20 bet into five-figure earnings.

Parlay cards with numerous bets on them are a bit like playing the lottery. Sure, the odds of winning are long, but you also don’t have to risk much to be in the game. And it’s that potential to hit it big that makes the whole thing worth it.

Besides offering a lottery-like opportunity to make significant cash on a relatively small bet, parlays also play a vital role in increasing the recreational value of sports betting for some gamblers. For bettors that enjoy having action on the sporting events they watch, but that doesn’t have a large bankroll, parlay cards are a godsend. They provide an opportunity to have action on an entire slate of games, making all of them more entertaining to watch, without requiring any more capital.

Maximizing the Value of Handicapping

Accurately handicapping a competition is a lot of work. There are hours of data collection required with even more data analysis, research, constant refinement of your datasets, and a never-ending search for correlations between specific statistics and winning. For the gamblers that are more gifted at crunching the numbers and accurately predicting the outcome, it would be a waste to bet on which team will win only.

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Parlays allow you to continue putting the knowledge you have gained to good use.

So, let’s say your statistical model generates ten-thousand simulated outcomes for a game. One bit of information you will gather from these simulations is which team wins most often if the two teams played thousands of times in an identical environment each time. But your handicapping should also show the most probable scoring output, and how the game plays out the majority of the time.

So now, in addition to having some insight into which team wins most often when the two sides compete, you also have the most common outcome regarding score. With these two answers in mind, you may parlay the moneyline bet, picking the winner, with a totals bet predicting whether the total number of points scored will be over or under the line set by the bookmaker. Essentially, if you have accurate data models, you can use them for higher returns than you’d get for strictly picking winners.

Potential for Profit Before Winning or Losing

Parlay bets also have the potential to be real investments with value, regardless if they win or lose. You may have noticed that some sports betting sites provide the ability to cash in parlay cards before they have completed. Furthermore, there are now online bet exchanges where handicappers will purchase each other’s bet tickets if they have potential.

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For Example:

Let's say you placed a six-team parlay bet for $100, with the potential to win $4,000. You win the first five bets, with the last matchup being determined the next day. At this point, depending on the odds of your previous winning picks, sportsbooks with the cash-in option may offer you $2,800 to settle the bet right then.

If that last game goes on to win, you will have missed out on $1,200, and it was a good cash-in by the bookmaker. However, if you take the payout and that last game goes on to lose, you got paid twenty-eight to one odds on a wager that would have been worth nothing. It’s all about timing and knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.

Because these exchanges and cash in options exist, parlay bets can be used as an investment that may turn a hefty profit regardless of the final outcome. As long as your early picks are winners, you can maximize the value of even losing tickets. Indeed, if you always played it cautiously, and sold your parlay cards at every opportunity, you’d still be up money.

It’s better to win slightly less than you would have than to lose everything on the last bet. Put in the situation above, entering the final game of a six-team parlay, if you sell the card the worst case scenario is that you missed out on an additional $1,200. You still will have made an enormous profit. But if you keep the card and that last game loses, you get nothing and end up down 100-dollars.

Ability to Hedge Bets

Another enormous benefit to making parlay bets is the ability to hedge, guaranteeing you win money. Like the cash-in option above, hedging can only be done if the earlier picks on the card are winners. Once your ticket comes down to a single game, you may wager half the amount of your potential parlay earnings on the opposite side of the last bet to ensure you take home a profit.

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For Example:

Let's say you've hit the first three bets on a four-team card. If your gamble wins, you stand to make $3,000. Since there's only one game left, you can buy yourself some insurance by hedging. The way you'd hedge would be to place $1,500 on the team you bet against on the parlay.

Now, if your original parlay wins, you will have sacrificed half of the prize money, bringing home $1,500 instead of $3,000. But if the opposite happens, and the parlay card loses, you’ll be mighty happy you chose to hedge. In that case, you’ll be taking home significantly more money.

Be careful to only hedge your bets in ways that guarantee one of your plays has to win. Lines commonly move between the time of the initial bet and the hedge. In this scenario, there may be a gap in the point spreads that make losing both bets possible. When this happens, it’s devastating and best to be avoided, even if you have to tease the line in order to ensure one side wins, despite the return for teasers being less.

Parlay Betting Strategies

Parlay bets are generally considered bad bets. With each additional wager added-on to the card, the bookmaker’s advantage increases. Regardless, there are some strategies and approaches that can help improve your chances.

Correlate Your Picks

Making a correlated parlay involves making a two-bet card, with both wagers coming from the same game.

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For Example:

Let’s say the New England Patriots are playing the Dallas Cowboys. After handicapping the game, you determine that if the Cowboys win, it'll have to be a low-scoring affair led by the strength of their defense. Conversely, for the Patriots to win, the game will most-likely need to be a high scoring affair.

When placing your bet, you want your parlay to reflect these two likely outcomes. If you decide to bet on the Cowboys, you parlay that pick with the under on the totals line. If you predict New England to win, you bet the Patriots and the over. If you are able to predict which team will win, you must have an idea of what must take place for that to happen. Correlating your picks is merely a way to double down on that prediction.

Diversify Your Picks

No matter how sure you are about a particular game, make sure you don’t repeat any single bet on all of your parlay cards. That way, an individual upset doesn’t blow all of your tickets for the week. Instead, mix and match the picks you feel confident in across multiple parlay wagers.

If your bets win, you will still win all of the cards. But, if a single pick loses, the damage will be limited, and other tickets will still produce earnings. We will discuss a specific diversification strategy when we reach the “Round Robin System” subsection.

Pairing a Favorite and Two Underdogs

A conventional approach to parlay betting is to identify a heavy favorite and parlay that pick with a moderate or slight underdog. In this situation, you will make two separate parlays. The same bet on the favored team will be on both cards, but the underdog it’s paired with will be different.

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For Example:

Let’s say the Golden State Warriors have an upcoming game against the woeful Dallas Mavericks. That game is a solid candidate for our favorite. Then, we find two underdogs sitting in the +150 to +200 range. We’ll call the two underdog teams the Timberwolves and the Chicago Bulls, respectively.

We place one bet with the Warriors and Timberwolves parlayed, and another containing just the Warriors and the Bulls. It is possible that both tickets will win, which is the ideal scenario. But the beautiful thing about parlays is that even if only one parlay wins, we still make money overall.

Parlay Big Favorites

It’s hard to make any money strictly gambling on heavy favorites. The earnings they return often aren’t worth the risk of an upset. Parlaying multiple highly favored teams is a way to improve the return, without dramatically increasing the risk of losing.

For instance, if you wanted to bet on a -200 favorite straight up, a $100 bet would only return $50 in profit. If you created a parlay by adding another -200 favorite to the mix, your earnings would increase to $125. A winning parlay with a third -200 favorite would yield $237.50. So, you see, there’s money to be made by solely wagering on favored teams.

Two-Team System

The two-team parlay system is an adaptation of the martingale betting system, which involves increasing your wagers in a predetermined progression depending on whether the most recent bet won or lost. Each bet will be a two-team parlay, and you’ll only need to win one out of eight tickets to profit.

How much you choose to start betting with is up to you, but it’s important to remember that with each loss, the next bet’s staking amount will need to be exponentially higher. Should you lose the first seven, game eight will be twenty-five times higher than your initial value, so choose a number you’ll be able to afford if you have an unlucky losing streak.

For our example, we will start with a $5 bet.

  • If we win the first two-team parlay, we bank the earnings and wager the same amount next game.
  • If we lose, we increase our staking amount to $10 for the next contest. If we win, we go back to $5.
  • Following a second consecutive loss, our third two-team parlay is placed for $15. Once again, a win returns us to the $5 beginning, while a loss requires a more substantial stake.
  • Game four requires us to bet $25.
  • Game five, after a losing streak, brings us to placing a $40 two-team parlay.
  • If the unfortunate luck continues, game six costs $60.
  • Game seven must be bet at $90.
  • If we’ve lost seven in a row, we’ll be feeling the pressure. If this last bet fails, we’ve lost a significant amount of money. If it wins, we’re up overall. The eight bet is for $125, or twenty-five times whatever the initial bet was.

This plan has the potential for disaster if you start too ambitiously and make poor picks. But if you parlay teams in the -110 to +120 range, you should be able to win often enough to turn a profit.

Round Robin System

The Round Robin System is a way of diversifying your parlays that can be extraordinarily lucrative or devastating, depending on your handicapping ability. What this system involves is handicapping a group of games, then making several parlay cards with only a few picks each, betting every combination of the games we decided on.

This is somewhat confusing, so we’ll look at an example.

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For Example:

Let's say we've got five games on which we feel confident about betting. Rather than bet all of those five games on one parlay card, we are going to make several two, three, or four team parlays. Each parlay card will have a different combination of those five picks.

If only one of our picks loses, just a few of the parlays will be affected while the others will still make money. If two miss, we may still be safe from losing money, but we’ll be close to breaking even. How many individual picks you can afford to lose depends on the odds for each of our bets.

Three Picks Max

This rule is more of a tip than an actual strategy. If you study the payout odds that we shared in an earlier section, you will notice that they jump dramatically after three-team parlays. This shows us that the implied probability of those bets winning is much lower.

While making lottery-ticket parlay bets can be exciting, and occasionally lucrative, for the majority of the time, it’s a fool’s errand. The mathematically intelligent approach is to keep all of your parlays to two or three teams, maximum.

Best Teams End-of-Season Strategy

This parlay betting strategy is typically used when betting on baseball, but it could potentially apply to basketball as well. Basically, you wait until the final third of the season, and then pick the best two teams from the top of the standings. Next, you just parlay those two teams on the same card anytime they both play on the same day.

It’s a somewhat simple system, but it tends to have success. It allows you to bet on the two best teams in the league, while still making money despite not even needing to win %50 of your parlay bets.

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Both sides can be -240 heavy favorites, and you'll nevertheless break even!

This is a great way to profit without requiring much risk.

Leverage “Sure-Things”

There are some contests that you just know how they’ll play out before they even begin. One side is just entirely overmatched, and the outcome is all but assured. In sports betting, we call these “sure things” or “locks.”

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The thing about betting on certainties though is that they are always so heavily favored, they aren't worth betting on.

In order to receive a decent return, you have to stake too much money to make the bet worth the risk. Instead, pair that sure-thing with a slight underdog, or lesser favorite.

You may not win massive amounts of money, but by leveraging your lock, you at least get to bet the favored team at a decent price. The strategy of making two parlays that share the favorite pick but have different underdog wagers that we described above is one example of leveraging your solid favorites.

Hedging Your Bets

Hedge BetsWe mentioned hedging your bets in the previous section, as one of the significant benefits of making parlay bets. Whenever you are having early success with a parlay card, start considering if it’s worth hedging or not. There are a few ways you can approach hedging.

Like we mentioned previously, to hedge, we are going to place another bet on the final remaining game, this time taking the opposite side. If we need Team B to win to complete our parlay, our hedge bet will be placed on Team A. How profoundly you choose to hedge depends on you.

If you have the bankroll, one approach is to stake 50% of the total payout you stand to gain if the final piece of the parlay is won. At worst, you win the parlay and still earn 50% of what you would have if you didn’t hedge. You still gain a decent amount of money but losing such an immense chunk of the payout isn’t worth it to everyone.

You can also hedge a smaller amount. Some people will make their hedge bet just large enough to ensure they break even or slightly profit if their parlay ends up losing. They’re still heavily invested in the parlay; they just don’t have to stress about squandering the initial wager. Depending on the odds, you may also want to bet more on the hedge, creating a situation where a winning parlay breaks even while losing the parlay ticket results in a considerable return.

Cash-in Options and Bet Exchanges

Consider making your parlay bets with cash-in options and bet exchanges in mind. Rather than even attempting to win the entire card, frontload your parlay with obvious choices, and then bet both sides of the late matchups on different tickets. The idea is to generate potential value and sell before the outcome is decided.

If you start looking at parlay cards as investments, you plan to dump, rather than actual bets, the strategy involved changes. Try to identify the most significant favorites in the early contests and choose some combination of those. Then, for the later games, you take some slight underdogs, some heavy underdogs, and maybe a favorite or two.

The more tickets you have, the better. Once you’ve only got a single game remaining, look to sell as many varieties of the parlay cards that you can.

Summing It All Up

While parlay bets aren’t appreciated by the majority of professional handicappers, they still serve an important purpose in the world of sports betting. Having the ability to mix and match wagers gives gamblers an opportunity to utilize sophisticated strategies, bet on favored teams without staking too much, and take action out on a broad swathe of games without requiring a massive bankroll.

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The most appealing aspect of parlay betting is the chance to win vast sums of money despite only laying a small stake.

The low-risk, high-reward potential that parlays possess keep the public’s imagination engaged and increase overall sports viewing enjoyment. The most complicated parlays, involving ten or more teams, resemble playing the lottery with payouts in the tens-of-thousands, if not more.

Though most parlay bets are mathematical missteps, there are some strategies and systems that can be used to make money. Things like leveraging heavy favorites, making correlated parlays and diversifying your picks can help a novice bettor increase the value of their bets. They may also creatively organize their gambling to minimize risk while maximizing gain.

Parlay betting is all about making a more intricate and complex wager out of several individual parts. Each unique piece of the equation impacts the bottom line and ups the ante for both the gambler and the bookmaker. One lucky week can lead to life-changing payouts, but make just a single error, and you’ll have to start all over. That’s what makes parlay betting so beautiful.

Jim Beviglia
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About Jim Beviglia
Jim Beviglia has been a gambling writer at since 2018. During that time, he’s written just about every type of article related to gambling, including reviews of betting sites, guides to popular casino games, betting tips on both casino and sports betting, sports and casino blog posts, and game picks. In addition to online gambling, one of Jim’s other major interests is music. He has been doing freelance work for various music sites and magazines for two decades. Among his outlets past and present are American Songwriter, VinylMePlease, Treble, and The Bluegrass Situation. Jim has also written five books on music that were published by Rowman & Littlefield.