Have you ever been asked how do parlays work? I’ve been asked this question so many times that I decided to write a quick post about it to point people to the post every time I get asked this question.
A parlay is a sports bet on two or more teams in a combination bet. If every team you choose in the parlay wins the bet, you win more than you can win betting on individual games. But if a single team loses, you lose your entire bet.
The payment odds make parlays look good, but are they a good risk? You will find the answer to this question and everything else you need to know about sports betting parlays in this post, including examples.
The Basics of Parlays
When you make a parlay wager, you bet on two or more games, with the maximum at some sportsbooks being a 10 game parlay. You win more when you win all of the games on your parlay than if you bet the games separately, but if you lose any parlay game, you lose all the games.
Here’s a sample of how much a winning bet pays based on how many games you bet on in the parlay. Of course, every sportsbook sets its own pay charts for parlays, so you might see numbers at some sportsbooks that are slightly different than those listed here.
For example, I’ve seen four team parlays pay 10 to 1 and 12 to 1.
|Number of Games You Bet||Odds Paid|
|Two||13 to 5|
|Three||6 to 1|
|Four||11 to 1|
|Five||22 to 1|
|Six||45 to 1|
|Seven||90 to 1|
|Eight||180 to 1|
|Nine||360 to 1|
|Ten||720 to 1|
Here’s how to read the chart. If you bet on three teams, you win 6 to 1 if you pick all three games correctly. So if you bet $100 and win all three games, you win back your $100, and you win another $600.
Some gamblers struggle when the paid odds aren’t listed as some number to one, like the odds when you bet on a two game parlay. But it’s not hard to understand them once you learn a couple of simple tricks.
The first trick is you can divide the first number by the second number. For example, when you divide 13 by 5, you get 2.6, so the odds are 2.6 to 1. In other words, 13 to 5 is the same as 2.6 to 1. So if you bet $100 on a two team parlay and win, you get your $100 back and win an extra $260.
The other trick is to think of it as betting a multiple of the number on the right. If you bet $5, you win $13, or if you bet $500, you win $1,300. In both cases, you also get back your original bet, so you get back your $5 in the first and $500 in the second examples.
When you pick teams for your parlay bet, you usually use point spreads just like you do when you only bet on one game, and you have to win each game with the point spread. But some sportsbooks let you build a parlay bet using moneylines, but this gets complicated, so most gamblers stick with point spreads.
Examples of Parlay Wagers
Here are the lines for some NFL games. After you look at the lines, I’ll show you a couple of examples using the lines for a parlay wager.
LV Raiders + 5 ½
Cincinnati Bengals – 5 ½
New England Patriots + 4 ½
Buffalo Bills – 4 ½
Philadelphia Eagles + 8 ½
Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 8 ½
San Francisco 49ers + 3
Dallas Cowboys – 3
You decide to do a two team parlay and bet on the Bengals and Cowboys. You bet $50, and the Bengals win by 10, and the Cowboys win by 11. You get back your 450 bet and win $130, so you get a total of $180 back. But if the Bengals had only won by three or lost, you would’ve lost the parlay wager. If the Cowboys had only won by two or lost, the same is true.
You make a four team parlay bet on the Raiders, Patriots, Eagles, and 49ers. You bet $40, and if all four of your teams cover the spread, you get your $40 back and win $440, for a total of $480. But if any of the four teams don’t cover the spread, you lose your $40 wager.
Good Things about Parlay Wagers
The good thing about parlay wagers is you can win a decent return when you bet on two or more games. And if all of the games you want to bet on are playing at the same time, you can win more betting on a parlay than betting on each game.
The downside is if you lose one game, you lose the parlay. And if you bet on individual games, you can still win the other game or games if you lose one game.
In the next section, I will show you why making parlay bets isn’t the best thing to do financially. And I’m going to show you using real numbers, so there’s no doubt about the conclusion. In other words, the proof is in the numbers that parlay wagers are a bad idea.
Bad Things about Parlay Bets
If you bet $110 to win $100 on a game and win, you now have $210. If you bet $210 to win $190.91 on a second game and win, you have a total of $400.91. But if you bet $110 on a two team parlay and win both games, you only have a total of $396. In fact, at most sportsbooks, you have less when you win a two team parlay because most sportsbooks charge vig on both games, so you might only end up with $360.
Take a close look at what you just read if you don’t see why making a parlay wager is a bad idea. If you bet on the two games individually and roll your money over to the second game, you win more money than you can win on a parlay.
I used to make a few parlay wagers, but I stopped making parlay wagers as soon as I ran the math that I just showed you.
Should You Make Parlay Wagers?
If you want to have fun and risk a small amount of money to try for a long-shot win on a parlay ticket for entertainment purposes, feel free to do it. But parlay bets don’t have any place in the toolbox of serious sports gamblers.
I don’t recommend using parlay bets. You’re better off betting on individual games. I use a modified system when I want to take a chance on multiple games. What I do is bet on the first game, and if I win, I bet 75% of the money I get back on a second game. If I’m feeling especially frisky, I bet 75% of the money on a third game when I win the second game.
Here’s how the math works on this system. I bet $110 to win $100 on the first game and win, so I have $210. Next, I bet $160, which I rounded up from $157.50, to win $145.45. When I win the second game, I have a total of $302.95, plus the $50 I kept from the first win.
I can quit now and be up $242.95 or bet 75% of the money I got back from the second game on a third game. So I round $227.21 down to $220 and bet $220 to win $200 on the third game.
Notice that this leaves me with $132.95 even if I lose the third game. But when I win the third game, I get another $420 to add to the $132.95, which is a profit of $442.95 after taking out the original $110.
You can play around with different percentages, but using a system like this is fun to try something like a parlay bet without the same risk and downside. But you’re still better off betting on individual sporting events and learning how to find games with value instead of trying to get lucky and hit a parlay.
I know that the big odds paid out for a four or six team parlay wager looks good, but it’s not a good risk. If you want to drop a few dollars on a parlay every once in a while, it can be fun, but if you’re a serious sports gambler, the best thing to do is skip the parlay wagers.
If you want to maximize your return by betting on two or more games, bet on the first one, rolll the money over, and bet it all on the second game. You’re going to win more doing this if you get two games right than using a parlay.