What is a Parlay Bet & How Does It Work?

What is a Parlay Bet & How Does It Work?

For sports bettors, parlays are combination bets that involve folding several discrete wagers into a single Frankenstein’s monster of a bet. Each bet that makes up a parlay is known as a “leg.”

Parlays can have an almost unlimited number of legs. Any bet that has two wagers in one is a parlay, but it’s not uncommon to see parlays with more than 10 legs.

As the number of legs in a parlay increase, so does the payout potential. It is fairly typical for parlays with double-digit legs to offer payouts that could multiply the betting stake by 100 or more.

However, as discussed earlier, there is a major catch with parlays. For a parlay to win, every single leg has to be accurately chosen. If even one leg fails, the entire bet is lost.

So, if a bettor has won 14 legs of a 15-leg parlay but loses the 15th, the entire bet is wiped out. The outsized payouts that parlays offer are offset by the complete lack of a margin of error.

How do you place a parlay bet?

Needless to say, parlays are high-risk, high-reward options. Your chances of winning are quite low.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that most sportsbooks make it quite easy for you to make a parlay bet, which can incorporate multiple events or be composed of several wagers within one event, otherwise known as a same-game parlay. After all, published revenue reports clearly show that parlays are extremely profitable for sportsbooks.

However, the siren call of a big payout is hard to ignore. So, here’s what to do if you want to try a parlay:

  • Make all of your selections for your legs. You can choose any number of sports and any type of bets, but legs cannot be correlated with one another. In other words, you cannot pick the moneyline and the point spread for the same game as two of your legs, since those two outcomes are not completely separate from each other.
  • If you are sports betting online or using a kiosk, your betslip will auto-populate with your selections and your betting options. Parlays should pop up as soon as you choose your second leg, along with the moneyline payout ratio for the parlay. If you are in a retail casino, you’ll have to walk through each option with the cashier to set up the parlay.
  • Finally, you’ll either input your wager amount into the betslip blank online or hand the appropriate amount of cash to the cashier. Once you’ve done so, the bet will be booked, and it will be time to wait.

Many retail sportsbooks may offer parlay cards, too. These documents ease the procedure on both you and the ticket writer. You will need only to fill out the card and turn it into the cashier with your bet money to secure the bet.

One pitfall about betting parlays live is that many retail sportsbooks will use preset odds payouts for parlays. In doing so, they often set themselves to pay out less than the true odds of hitting the parlay would indicate.

However, preset odds on parlays rely upon the idea that each leg offers a choice with equivalent -110 payouts. So, the simple solution to avoid getting short-changed is to make sure that at least one of your legs does not have equal payouts. When you do that, the sportsbook will have to recalculate and will give you the correct value on your parlay.

With online sportsbooks, however, you don’t have to worry about preset odds. The technology that they use means that they can calculate every parlay’s odds on the spot.

How do parlay odds work?

Like most types of wagers, parlay betting odds are a bit easier to understand with real-world examples. So, consider the following set of NBA game bets as samples. We are using FanDuel Sportsbook for this listing:

For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to make four-point spread bet selections. We’re taking the following choices:

  • Orlando Magic +2.5 @ -115
  • Indiana Pacers -1 @ -110
  • Milwaukee Bucks -10.5 @ -110
  • Brooklyn Nets -4.5 @ -114

Now, the first thing to point out is that we deliberately chose the favorites in each matchup. All four teams are expected to win against their spreads, either beating them or covering them. Furthermore, two teams are drawing a greater share of wagers so far — the lower payouts for the Magic and Nets indicate as much. So, it would seem that a parlay with these four teams would be relatively low-risk.

Well, here is what the parlay option on our betslip says:

So, even though all four of our selections are favored to come true, the notion that all four will come true is still a heavy underdog. According to that parlay option, the chance that all four will beat their spreads is nearly 12:1.

Using actual underdogs or adding extra legs to the mix will just lengthen the odds further. For instance, let’s say we switch our selections from the Magic to the Bulls and Raptors to the Nets. It’s not unreasonable to do so — the payout ratios for each option are not very far apart. However, look at the effect those small changes have on our parlay outlook:

Those small tweaks created more than an 8% increase in the risk profile of the bet. Adding an extra leg creates an even more profound difference. So, here’s a new selection that gives our parlay five legs:

  • Oklahoma City Thunder +1 @ -114

Notice that our choice is receiving a larger portion of wagers right now, too. In other words, the smart money is betting on the Thunder at this time. However, here’s what our new parlay outlook is:

That one addition almost doubled our risk! You can only imagine how much riskier a parlay with more than 10 legs must be.

However, remember that the displayed ratios are payouts, too. So, a meager $10 bet on that 5-team parlay could potentially put an extra $250 in our pockets. That’s a pretty excellent return on our investment, so you’ll have to balance out your risk tolerance with your desire to hit it big.