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How to Sports Bet 101: What is a Parlay?

Henry John

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When betting on sports, the traditional types of wagers deal with one specific outcome. Be it for a team to win outright on the moneyline or cover the point spread, individual bets are made solely on one specific aspect. However, bettors do have the option to make combination bets. Known by the term “parlay,” these picks are often popular amongst casual bettors as stringing together multiple bets into one naturally results in a wager with longer odds and a greater potential payout. If you are interested in learning more about this high-risk, high-reward type of betting, you have come to the right place.

In the sections that follow, we will define what exactly a sports betting parlay is, discuss what goes into placing a parlay bet, identify some helpful strategies and resources to use, and compare the pros and cons of indulging in this kind of sports betting.

How to Sports Bet 101: What Is a Parlay?

Defining Sports Betting Parlays

For those new to the world of sports betting parlays, it will be helpful to first gain an understanding of what exactly these bets are. The following offers a working definition of the concept:

“A parlay is a singular wager in which two or more bets are tied together to effectively produce a larger potential payout. All of the included bets must hit for the parlay wager to be graded as a winner.”

If you are a new bettor or simply unfamiliar with the concept of parlays, comprehending the full definition may be a bit overwhelming. Let’s break down the key points in greater detail.

Minimum of Two Bets Required to Form a Parlay

Whether you are looking to create a parlay out of moneyline selections, player props, or even a combination of bets from two entirely different sports, at least two unique bets are required to create a parlay wager. Moneyline parlays are among the most common and are very easy to create. Simply combining a bet on the outright winner of one game with a second outright winner in a different game will create a small moneyline parlay.

While a minimum of two bets are required in order to create a parlay, there is no limit from there. Bettors can build out a sports betting parlay that includes three, five, seven, 10 or even 15 different bets. The only real limit to how large one makes their parlay is their own imagination. Well, okay, and the house rules at your respective sportsbook. Most books limit the size of parlay wagers to either 15 or 20 combined bets.

Combining Bets Creates Longer Odds

This section is all about the key component of parlays that make them so popular. It makes basic mathematical sense that combining an individual unique bet together with a second unique bet would ultimately form a wager with longer odds. After all, both of the individual bets have their own respective odds of occurring as assigned by the bookmakers. Whether these bets are both seen as very likely to occur, both viewed as longshots, or somewhere in between, the chances of them occurring individually are greater than both occurring together.

While betting on multiple things to happen together at longer odds may not seem like a great strategy, it is in those increased odds that the potential reward lies. For most sports bettors, the goal is to maximize the value they get on their bets and turn a profit. When it comes to that profit, why settle for less when you could net more?

Longer Odds Create Larger Potential Payouts

Due to the fact that parlays require multiple bets to win in order to cash, the odds of a parlay winning as compared to each included bet individually automatically become longer. Just as a longshot individual bet would offer a greater potential payout than an odds-on wager, so to do parlays at longer odds offer a greater reward than simply betting on individual outcomes.

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Essentially, sports betting parlays offer bettors the chance to combine two or more individual tickets of their choosing together for increased odds. While the longer odds are the result of needing more than one outcome to come true, they also provide a greater payout should all included bets come to fruition.

Parlays Must be Perfect to Win

It is said that in life, there is no such thing as perfection. Well, in order for a sports betting parlay to be deemed a winner, it must be perfect, aka go undefeated, aka bat 1.000, aka any other comparison you can think of. Parlays have longer odds than the individual bets that comprise them because ALL of the bets must win for the parlay to win.

While this is great in that it gives bettors the chance to pursue increased payouts, putting together a perfect combination of bets is far easier said than done. Even the probability of winning a two-leg parlay is drastically reduced compared to the odds of each bet winning individually.

What Happens if There is a Push?

While the chances of an entire parlay ticket pushing are slim to none, there will occasionally be an individual bet included on a parlay that pushes. This happens when the final spread (or total) lands identical to the betting line. In the event of a push, that bet is removed, and the parlay moves forward to be graded on the results of the other remaining bets.

For example, if one bet on a five-leg parlay winds up as a push, that bet is canceled out and the bettor’s parlay will move forward as a four-leg ticket. The ensuing odds and potential payout will reflect the parlay as though the pushed bet was never included.

How to Build a Parlay Bet

The following section will walk through an example of how to build a sports betting parlay. The same general practice, principles and operations in this example can be used to build parlays of any size and for any sport(s).

Make Your Betting Picks

Remember that you, the bettor, have the freedom to choose which bets you ultimately combined together into a single parlay wager. For the purpose of this example, we will be building a three-leg NFL parlay with various types of wagers.

Refer to the following images which show each of the three individual bets that we will be putting in our parlay. They include:

  • A bet on the Houston Texans +3.5 (-122) to cover the spread against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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  • Betting the San Francisco 49ers (-370) on the moneyline for an outright win over the Atlanta Falcons.

  • A bet on the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts to score less than 46 combined points (-110).

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Note once again the betting odds of these three individual bets are -122, -370 and -110. Based on those odds, the image below shows what the winnings and total potential payout would be on each individual wager.

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As the image shows, a $100 bet on each individual wager would win $81.97, $27.03 and $90.91. While the potential payouts are enticing, note that those figures include the $100 that the bettor had to risk three separate times on each individual wager. Keep those numbers in mind as we transition on to the next step of actually combining the bets into a single parlay wager.

Combine the Bets Together

The process of combining individual bets together into a parlay is very easy when done through online sportsbook sites. Most will automatically combine multiple selected wagers together into a parlay with the odds calculated in real-time. You will not have to worry about doing any hard math or calculations when constructing actual parlays. The automatic construction also allows bettors to see the impact that one bet has on the parlay’s overall odds when included or removed.

Using the individual bet selections from above, we will now set to work constructing our example parlay wager. The following image still shows what happens to the betting odds and potential payout when the three NFL bets are combined to form a single parlay ticket.

As seen in the image, when the three unique wagers are combined together, the resulting potential win amount of a $100 bet is $441. Since the three bets have now been lumped into one parlay ticket, the bettor must only risk $100 one time to achieve that payout.

Contrast this to the three bets made individually above and we get a clear picture of how parlays can be not only profitable but strategic. Combining each of the three NFL betting outcomes together into a single parlay offers the bettor the chance to rake in increased winnings ($441 compared to $199.91). At the same time, it eliminates the unnecessary risk of wagering $100 individually three separate times.

All told, the parlay wager provides a larger potential payout at reduced expenditure. Of course, the caveat to that is the long betting odds that arise as a result of all three bets needing to cash in order for the parlay to be deemed a winner.

How to Make Picks for a Parlay

Knowing that one can create a parlay from any kind of bet imaginable, it can be tough to pick and choose exactly which ones make the most sense. While there are ways to go about calculating the most advantageous parlay bets mathematically, there are far more efficient ways.

Utilize OddsShopper’s Parlay Builder Tool

Did you know that OddsShopper can calculate optimal parlays for you? Simply navigate over to the tool’s Parlay Builder and try it out for yourself! Users can filter the Parlay Builder by state of residence, preferred sport, and type of bets to include. It then generates amazing parlay wagers for you using expert projections for that day’s games.

After assembling a parlay based on your selections, the Parlay Builder seamlessly redirects you to a sportsbook with preferred odds. All you have to do is navigate there and place the parlay bet for yourself. It is that easy! The image below offers a quick look at the user-friendly layout.

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There are all different kinds of parlays that the tool can assemble for you. From parlays filled exclusively with betting underdogs to extremely high-value tickets that offer a potential payout of more than 10x your investment, the Parlay Builder has some of everything. For more on this OddsShopper resource, CLICK HERE.

Parlay Betting Picks Calculations to Know

While knowledge of the math that lies behind a sports betting parlay is not necessary to make bets, having an understanding of the most basic calculations can be helpful. For those who are serious about the sports handicapping endeavor, it helps to know where different odds and calculations come from. It can also be helpful to know if a parlay wager is the best option to choose in a given situation. In some cases, parlaying a series of bets together can actually be detrimental to one’s potential payout and betting value.

The sections that follow help break down three of the most basic and helpful parlay calculations.

Calculating Parlay Odds

Believe it or not, it is possible for you, the bettor, to calculate parlay odds yourself. While most will simply opt to let the sportsbook do the math for them when making their bet selections, there is a set formula to follow to calculate what your parlay’s odds should be in advance.

The odds for a parlay are calculated by dividing the total payout amount by the wager amount for each individual bet you are looking to include. This calculation yields a decimal multiplier (which equates to decimal betting odds) for each bet. To calculate the odds of the parlay, simply multiply each decimal multiplier together and then convert the total back into American odds by multiplying by 100.

Yes, there is a lot going on in the written description of this process. To break it down, the key calculation to remember is listed out below.

Total Payout (Win Amount + Bet Amount) / Bet Amount = Decimal Multiplier

Calculating Parlay Odds Example

To help illustrate this calculation, the following outlines the step-by-step process used to calculate the parlay odds for the three-leg NFL betting parlay used in the previous example. Recall the odds and calculated winnings:

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To calculate the parlay odds, we must first get the decimal multiplier for each individual wager.

Let’s start with the individual $100 bet on Texans (+3.5). The sum of the potential win amount ($81.97) and bet amount ($100) equals the total potential payout of $181.97. To get our decimal multiplier, we simply divide 181.97 by 100 and round the resulting quotient:

181.97 / 100 = 1.82

We then repeat the same process for the 49ers moneyline bet:

127.03 / 100 = 1.27

And finally for the Patriots-Colts total bet:

190.91 / 100 = 1.91

Now that we have all three multipliers, we can calculate our parlay odds.

1.82 x 1.27 x 1.91 = 4.41 (x 100) = 441

As we previously saw in the section where we initially constructed this parlay, the resulting odds of combining these three individual bets together come out to +441.

Probability of a Parlay Hitting

Generally speaking, the more bets one chooses to include in their sports betting parlay, the slimmer the odds are of that parlay winning. The exact probability also accounts for the odds of each wager included.

The following list shows what the percentage chances are of a parlay comprised of individual bets all priced at the standard -110 odds.

  • Two-leg parlay – 27.47%
  • Three-leg parlay – 14.37%
  • Four-leg parlay – 7.52%
  • Five-leg parlay – 3.94%
  • Six-leg parlay – 2.06%
  • Seven-leg parlay – 1.08%
  • Eight-leg parlay – 0.56%
  • Nine-leg parlay – 0.30%
  • 10-leg parlay – 0.15%

As seen in the list, the chances of a parlay bet winning decrease rapidly at first before the decline eventually tapers off as more legs are added in.


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Determining the Size of a Parlay Payout

Much like the win probability, the size of a parlay’s potential payout hinges on both the number of individual bets included and the odds of those respective bets. A parlay that contains all moneyline favorites will not return as much as one featuring multiple underdogs because of the reduced risk. Of course, the amount of money bet on the parlay also matters.

The following list shows what the payouts would be for a $100 bet on a parlay comprised of individual bets all priced at the standard -110 odds.

  • Two-leg parlay – $264.46
  • Three-leg parlay – $595.79
  • Four-leg parlay – $1,228.33
  • Five-leg parlay – $2,435.90
  • Six-leg parlay – $4,741.27
  • Seven-leg parlay – $9,142.43
  • Eight-leg parlay – $17,544.64
  • Nine-leg parlay – $33,585.26
  • 10-leg parlay – $64,208.16

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Parlays

For those intrigued by the high-risk, high-reward nature of sports betting parlays, it is important to have a firm understanding of what exactly you are getting into. The next two sections highlight some of the most prominent advantages and disadvantages of betting parlays.

Advantages

The most obvious advantage of creating sports betting parlays is the increased potential payout waiting on the other side. If you think sweating out a straight individual bet is fun, it is nothing compared to having money riding on a series of bets strung together. The increased odds and reduced probability of winning make the sweat that much more exciting. If nothing else, betting parlays is a whole lot of fun!

While the entertainment factor is one component, there are also strategic advantages to making parlays a component of your sports handicapping venture. This can be something as simple as having two “locks” on a given day’s slate that you would like to combine together for increased winnings. Parlaying results together is also commonly used as an alternative to futures betting. While the long odds of a futures bet often lure bettors in, sometimes a greater payout can be obtained by parlaying individual bets based around that same future outcome together.

Disadvantages

While parlays raise the stakes (and the potential winnings), the odds of winning this type of wager often are not great. Look no further than the list above to see just how rapidly the win probability declines as more legs are added to a parlay ticket. Because of the long odds that are the result of needing multiple bets to all cash for the parlay combination to win, strictly betting parlays is guaranteed to result in losing money long-term instead of gaining.

Because of the fact that parlays require all bets to hit, it is not practical to constantly lump all of your picks into parlays and chase increased profits. Although parlays do have their place and the thrill of winning a big payout is second to none, moderation is key when it comes to this form of sports betting.

Key Points

Sports betting parlays offer bettors a fun alternative to straight betting practices. In summary:

  • Parlays are a singular wager in which two or more bets are tied together to effectively produce a larger potential payout.
  • At least two bets (also referred to as “legs” or “teams” when denoting a parlay’s size) are required to form a parlay wager.
  • Combining multiple bets together creates a single parlay ticket with longer odds and, thus, a larger potential payout.
  • ALL included legs must cash for a parlay to be scored as a winner.
  • To create a parlay, simply select the individual bets you like and combine them together.
  • The Parlay Builder feature in the OddsShopper Tool is a great resource to help you construct +EV parlays.
  • You can manually calculate a parlay’s odds by dividing the potential payout by the bet amount and multiplying the resulting decimal multipliers together.
  • As the probability of a parlay winning decreases rapidly before leveling off when more legs are added, the potential payout increases more slowly at first before growing exponentially later on.
  • As they are a high-risk, high-reward form of sports betting, being mindful of the various advantages and disadvantages parlays offer is key to success and bankroll sustainability.

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