Parlay Betting Explained With Examples

Sports bettors will often place a wager on a single game, whether it be the point spread, moneyline or over/under for a given matchup. But what if you’re so confident in multiple games that you wanted to combine them for an even bigger payout? That type of wager is a parlay.

Parlays are an all-or-nothing style of betting where multiple outcomes must come true for the wager to win. No matter how many items are involved in the parlay, if just one of the outcomes, also known as legs, is incorrect, the entire wager is a loss.

On this page, we will give you all the information you need to know regarding parlays and how they work. Betting parlays is a relatively popular form of betting, and it’s important to know some of the key terms when getting started with sports betting.

What is a parlay and how does it work?

As stated previously, a parlay consists of two or more bets combined into one. Parlay bets are generally difficult to win, and because of that, the payouts can be quite high. The more legs in a parlay, the larger the payout will be if they are all correct. The appeal of high payouts tends to entice bettors, but it’s hard enough to win one bet consistently, let alone two or more. This makes it an advantage for the sportsbook.

How to place a parlay bet at a sportsbook

With that general explanation of what a parlay is out of the way, let’s take a look at some examples of parlays in action.

For our first example, let’s say you are scanning the NFL odds board and identify two games that you like. Instead of placing two individual wagers, you group the two bets into a parlay. You believe the Washington Football Team will cover the spread as seven-point underdogs to the Green Bay Packers, and you think the over/under in the Buffalo Bills vs. Baltimore Ravens game will go over the point total of 50.

  • Washington +7 vs. Green Bay (-110)
  • Buffalo vs. Baltimore over 50 (-110)

As you may already know, many point spreads and totals have -110 odds on each side. Essentially, it means you’d need to bet $110 to win a $100 profit, so that’s what you would get if you bet each of these outcomes individually. However, since you’re parlaying these two bets, your potential payout is going to be much higher.

In the example, let’s say Washington covered the spread with a 27-24 score, and the Buffalo-Baltimore game went over the point total with a 31-28 final score. Congratulations. You won the bet, and you’ll win more than you would have if you bet these two outcomes individually. A winning $110 bet combining these two outcomes into a parlay would net a $290.91 payout. This is what makes parlay sports betting so attractive. It’s the idea that bettors can risk a little and potentially make a lot.

For our second example, let’s take a look at what it looks like when your parlay bet doesn’t go so well. Sticking with betting on the NFL, you’re going for a big swing on a full Sunday of action, placing a parlay involving five outcomes. Here’s what your betting slip might look like.

  • Chicago Bears Arizona Cardinals -3.5 (-110)
  • Seattle Seahawks Los Angeles Rams -7.5 (-110)
  • Detroit Lions Minnesota Vikings under 42.5 (-110)
  • Indianapolis Colts Houston Texans +2.5 (-110)
  • Pittsburgh Steelers Cleveland Browns under 47 (-110)

Let’s say you’ve got all of your first four bets picked correctly and it all comes down to the Sunday Night Football game between the Steelers and Browns. You have a lot riding on this game because a $110 bet in this scenario would lead to a $2,679.50 payout if all five bets are correct. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh and Cleveland find themselves in a shootout, and your bet of under 47 total points fails. Even though you predicted four correctly, the fifth bet was unsuccessful, making your entire parlay bet a loss.

Why are parlays so attractive to bettors?

Parlays are attractive because there is potential for a high payout even if you don’t risk that much. Even if you decide to put up just $5 on a parlay bet, putting together several outcomes would pay out nicely if they all come true.

As an example, if you look through a full NBA slate that features 10 games and had action on all 10 as part of one large parlay, your $5 bet would turn into a $3,210.41 payout if you got all 10 legs correct. Numbers like that get bettors excited to try parlays, but 10-leg parlays are so difficult to get correct that sportsbooks are happy to offer them.

Parlay bet variations and options

Parlays can come in various forms, and there are three major variations: progressive, multi-chance and open.

  • Progressive: In a progressive parlay, you do not receive as much of a payout as a regular parlay, but you essentially buy insurance in case one of the legs of the parlay fails. If you decide to pick a parlay of eight legs, the sportsbook might set the number at four. Once you hit four correct, your payout continues to increase with each additional one you get right.
  • Multi-chance: A multi-chance parlay is similar to a progressive parlay in that you don’t need to get all of the outcomes correct in order to make money. When you choose the number of legs on the parlay, all you need to do is hit the number of correct bets set by the sportsbook. If you accomplish that, your bet is a winner and you receive a set payout with no additional increases.
  • Open: You start with one wager, and if you predict it correctly, you are able to continue to build on the parlay. You’re essentially letting your winnings ride on the next outcome until you determine you’ve had enough.

Pros and cons of parlay bets

The pros and cons of betting sports parlays are fairly easy to understand. The pros are sports bettors can risk a small amount of money to potentially make a lot. Successfully completing a parlay bet can be a thrilling experience for any sports bettor.

However, the cons include parlay bets being incredibly difficult to hit on a consistent basis. The majority of bettors fail to make money gambling on sports by just doing single-game bets, and predicting two correct is even harder. In addition, you’re not getting true odds in a parlay bet, as it is designed to set up the sportsbook for success.

Parlay betting strategy

Many sports bettors who dive into parlays on a consistent basis will develop their own strategies, but here are a few basic ideas when parlay betting.

  • Hedging your bets: You’ve probably heard this term before, but here’s what it means. If you put together a decent size parlay and it starts out hot, you can protect yourself to ensure the last leg of the parlay doesn’t crush the entire wager. If you pick seven outcomes in a parlay and the first six of them hit, rather than going all or nothing on the seventh game, you can bet against the seventh outcome individually outside of the parlay bet to make sure you don’t wind up with nothing.
  • Moneyline favorites: Betting on the point spread is a pretty tough task, especially in parlays. One idea you might want to lean in to is betting the favorites to win outright. The payout will be smaller, but you will likely have a better shot at earning a victory in your parlay than you would with point spread bets.
  • Go small: Going in on a 10-team parlay is rarely if ever going to work, and you can do just as well doing multiple two- or three-team parlays that have a much better shot at cashing in.

Are parlays sucker bets?

Sportsbooks make a lot of money on parlay bets, so one could certainly view parlays as sucker bets. Bettors have a much better chance at winning on a consistent basis by placing regular, single-game wagers, but some hit big on a parlay or two, making the wagers worth their while. Sportsbooks lure in bettors with parlay betting odds that seem too good to be true when, in reality, the payouts aren’t as good as they probably should be if the industry were designed for equal success for bettors and sportsbooks.

Other wagers similar to parlay bets

In addition, there are other bet types that are similar to parlays, such as teasers and pleasers. Both require each outcome to be correct for the bet to be a success.

For a teaser, sports bettors can manipulate the betting lines in their favor, though the payout is much smaller. For example, say you like the Atlanta Falcons to cover as nine-point underdogs and the Philadelphia Eagles as eight-point favorites. You could decide to use a six-point teaser, which would add six points to your side. Once the teaser is in place, the Falcons need to cover as 15-point underdogs, while the Eagles just need to cover as two-point favorites. Both of these outcomes have a better chance of winning now that you’ve changed the lines, which makes the payout considerably less than a usual parlay.

In a pleaser, bettors can change the lines in the opposite direction. Using the same teams and lines in the teaser example, a six-point pleaser would move the lines to the Falcons now being a three-point underdog and the Eagles being 14-point favorites. You’d have to be extremely confident in both teams to place this wager, and because it’s much harder for you to win both bets, your payout would be quite large if both outcomes are correct.