What Is Parlay Betting and How Do Parlay Bets Work?

Written by: Richard Janvrin
19 min read

Ever wonder what could be better than winning one bet? How about winning a carefully configured series of bets and seeing your payout go through the roof?

Parlay bets are a way to do exactly that. Parlays are wagers combining two or more bets like moneylines, Over/Unders, or point spreads.

Gamblers love parlays because even though they’re less likely to win, when they do you’re guaranteed to win big. A parlay bet of two or more outcomes will always offer a higher payout than betting on each outcome individually. The caveat is that you must get all of the wagers correct to win the bet.

On this page we’ll explain everything you need to know to start betting parlays and reaping the rewards. We’ll tell you how parlays work, show you examples of parlays in action and explore how parlays work in all the major sports like NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL.

Take a look at our best NFL parlays this week.

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If you want to calculate your own parlay bet, check out our free parlay calculator.

What Is Parlay Betting?

Parlay bets, also known as accumulators or combo bets, are individual wagers that combine two or more bets and require all of the outcomes to be correct.

From the bettors perspective, the parlay is enticing because you stand to win more than if you had made each bet individually (assuming each side’s total betting amounts are equal).

A common parlay bet is to cover multiple games and bet the moneyline or point spread in each. If all your picks win, you win the parlay. If even one of them loses, you’re out of luck.

How Does Parlay Betting Work?

We know that parlays are when you combine more than one outcome into a single bet and you need to get every wager correct in order to win but how does that look in action and how does it affect your chances of winning the overall bet?

Let’s take a look at an example and do some quick math. In the following parlay bet, assume that the teams in each game have a roughly even, 50/50 chance of winning.

Most sportsbook offer a 2.6:1 payout on a two-game parlay. This means that a $100 bet that correctly predicts both outcomes pays you $260 ($160 of which is profit plus your initial $100 investment).

If, instead, you bet $50 on each outcome separately, your winnings would be $50×2=$100 plus your initial $100 investment for a total of $200.

We can see clearly now that the parlay, at a payout ratio of 2.6:1, pays $60 more overall than the two individual bets.

While the payout is greater so is the risk. That’s why sportsbooks love taking parlays. If you don’t get it perfect, you lose. The greater the number of wagers you put into one ticket, the higher the chances of failure but the bigger the potential reward.

Examples of Parlay Bets

Sportsbooks and casinos use parlays to let combine the three general-bet forms of wagers into one bet. These include the moneyline, Over/Under, and point spreads.

For example, if you like the Braves at -1.5 (a point spread bet), the Nuggets and Clippers Under 198.5 (an Over/Under bet), and the Penguins to beat the Capitals (a moneyline bet), you can place this combo bet for as little or as much as you please.

Remember, once you make this bet, you need all three results to be correct in order to win.

The maximum number of games you can combine on most sites is 15. That’s a potentially humongous payday and a true longshot.

Parlay Betting Rules

As mentioned above, you are allowed to wager across different kinds of bets and across sports, so long as they are independent events and not correlated.

This is an important distinction to make: sportsbooks DO NOT allow correlated parlays.

Ok, but what is a correlated parlay?

A correlated parlay is when you try to bet on two events that directly relate to each other.

For example, if you think the Nuggets/Clippers game will be Under at halftime and Under at full time then you will need to make the wagers independently. This is because one accurate result is directly correlated to the next. If the game is grossly below or above the halftime line, it is extremely likely to remain as such for the full time line.

They will, however, let you bet on Over/Under and a winner in the same game as these are considered semi-correlations.

Another important rule to consider when placing parlay bets is that a tie outcome, or in some cases a null/void bet, will result in that event being removed from the wager and the parlay subsequently reverts to the next lowest value of games for the payout.

Example: A five game parlay with a tie/push/void result in one of the outcomes would then make the ticket a four-event parlay.

Do Parlay Bets Include the Spread?

Yes. Parlay bets, so long as they are not fully correlated, can include the spread if you choose to bet this way.

A point spread will make your wager more difficult as the bookmakers are experts at setting lines that often reflect the final outcome. As such, you may be very confident about who will win a game but if you play the spread you can still lose the bet if the winning team doesn’t win by enough points.

Standard Parlay Betting Payout Odds

The following is a guideline for how most sportsbook pay parlays. This is assuming the games are standard -110 payout outcomes and the wager placed is $100. Of course, variations to the favorite or underdog side will impact these payouts.

Number Odds Amount won Payout
2 Team Parlay 13 to 5 $260 $360
3 Team Parlay 6.5 to 1 $650 $750
4 Team Parlay 13 to 1 $1,300 $1,400
5 Team Parlay 25 to 1 $2,500 $2,600
6 Team Parlay 50 to 1 $5,000 $5,100
7 Team Parlay 100 to 1 $10,000 $10,100
8 Team Parlay 180 to 1 $18,000 $18,100
9 Team Parlay 400 to 1 $40,000 $40,100
10 Team Parlay 825 to 1 $82,500 $82,600
11 Team Parlay 1500 to 1 $150,000 $150,10

How to Calculate Parlay Odds and Payouts

Here’s some important math to consider when it comes to parlay betting.

In order to calculate parlay odds you will need to use the Decimal odds format. If you are most comfortable with the American betting odds format, you can either convert the numbers yourself or change the settings on the online sportsbook you use.

To do the conversion on your own, follow this simple formula.

Favorites (listed as negative numbers) are divided from 100 then add 1.0

Underdogs (listed as positive numbers) are divided by 100 then add 1.0

Let’s say we want to parlay a favorite who -150 with an underdog who is +360. Here’s what the formula looks like for those numbers.

100/150 + 1 = 1.666

360/100 + 1 = 4.6

Now that we have converted American odds to Decimal odds, all that is left to do to determine the potential payout is multiply these decimal odds by the wager amount:

1.666 x 4.6 x $100 = $766.36

If you have more than two wagers on your parlay simple convert the odds for each and include it in the final multiplication.

Parlay Betting in Vegas

Become a Line Shopper!Different Vegas casinos offer different games, odds, and bonuses. This applies to all parts of the casino including the sportsbooks.

While most of the lines that are set will be similar across the major locations, be sure to compare the properties off the main strip as some places might have slightly different lines that could be more favorable to the bettor. This strategy takes some legwork on your part but it can pay off big when you find a great line no one else has seen.

Finding better odds and lines makes a particularly big difference when you’re betting parlays since it increases the multiplier on your overall bet.

Parlay Betting on Football

NFL betting is a booming industry, especially as more eyes become glued to more games each week. The big reason for the growing number of viewers tracking each game has to do with the evolution of fantasy league play. With more people following more games each week, the spillover to traditional sports gambling is inevitable.

There is a misconception in the gambling world that parlay bets, especially in football, are suckers bets. Take it from us, this is not the case. It’s more a matter of knowing the details of each scenario and doing your homework.

Here are some things to keep in mind when Sunday (and Thursday/Monday) rolls around:

  • Parlays in football are common because of its consistent inherent scheduling symmetry. Each Sunday the bulk of games are played at the same time with one Sunday evening match up and one (sometimes two) Monday nighters.
  • Since games run concurrently, bettors who wish to combine bets are often forced to do so as one cannot wait for one game to finish before doubling winnings on the next if both games start at the same time.
  • As a bonus, many sites offer NFL specific Sunday parlay bets where you can participate in massive pooled parlay contests that ask you to pick all of the day’s winners with the winner often taking home the entire prize.

Parlay Betting on Baseball

With respect to gambling, baseball has several unique qualities that make it ideal for the well-schooled gambler who is willing to put in the time and effort. Those characteristics include schedule frequency, stadium idiosyncrasy, weather, and pitching.

Fans of baseball have perhaps the greatest opportunity to make parlay wagers out of all major sporting leagues. Why? The sheer frequency of games, schedule length, and weekly team-vs-team three or four-game series lends itself perfectly to parlay gambling.

Add on top of that the otherwise unwatched weekday afternoon games and it’s easy to see why people love to bet on multiple games at a time in baseball.

Pitching matchups, day’s rest, venue, weather, the list goes on. When there is a favorable day of obvious choices, and the stars align, it makes for the perfect parlay storm.

Parlay Betting on Basketball and Hockey

Weeknight NBA scheduling, much like NHL, follows a fairly rigid format whereby the East coast games start at 7pm EST, followed by the second wave of games on the West coast at 10pm EST.

For the simplest of all parlays, the “2-gamer”, there are three ways to go about it. You run your first pair on the early games, a mix-n-match where you take an early game and a night game, or you wait for the West coast starts because you’re either a) the patient type and have a better read on the western conference b) on a heater from the first wave of games or c) you’re chasing your losses.

Either way, it’s nice to have options.

Then we hit the weekend: The most glorious time of the week for betting Basketball and Hockey.

Saturday, while busy on the basketball front, is really the NHL’s day to shine. Nearly all teams suit up and the opportunity to hit some big parlays starts early and runs late. The story flips on Sundays when the NBA takes center stage.

Important to note: Be careful to monitor your NHL moneyline bets as there is a difference between games that do or do not include overtime.

Parlay Betting on Horseracing

Horse betting is tremendously fun with tons of opportunities to make parlay bets. The first thing to know is that there are three basic types of parlay wagers: Win parlay, Place parlay, and Show parlay.

If you bet a Win parlay your horse must come first. If it does then the odds of that plus the winning money goes on to the next selection you’ve made. For a Place parlay the horse can finish top 2 and for a Show parlay it can finish top 3.

There are also exotic wagers which act like parlay bets within the same race. This list includes Exactas, Exacta boxes, Quinellas, Trifectas, Trifecta boxes, Superfectas, and Superfecta boxes. These all have to do with picking the finishing order of more than one horse running in the same race.

Check out our more in-depth guide to betting on horseracing for more details.

Parlay Betting on Soccer

The most popular sport on the planet, soccer lets you scratch your gambling itch any day, any time. There is barely ever a moment where there isn’t a match in progress or about to start somewhere on the planet.

Just know that when you’re parlaying soccer matches, the results are based on the score after 90 minutes plus stoppage time (unless the site states otherwise). Things like penalty shoot-outs or goals in extra-time and Golden Goals will not have an impact on your original wagers.

Best Parlay Betting System

One really popular parlay betting system is called the progressive betting system. The way it works is simple. Just increase the size of your bet after every win. Essentially you take the profit from the initial bet, plus the initial investment, and let it ride on another bet.

You can think of this as a one-bet-at-a-time parlay so it isn’t quite the same as the traditional description.

If that bet wins, then you continue on letting it ride. Eventually you have to decide whether to take your profits and stop, or go as big as you can. This method is often referred to as a ‘pyramid’ of winnings.

Let’s say your bet size is $20.

  • First round you bet $20. Lose.
  • Second round you bet another $20. Lose.
  • Third round you bet $20. Win $40
  • Fourth round you bet $60 ($20 plus $40 from the previous win).
  • Fifth round you bet $140 ($20 + $120 from last round).
  • Whenever you lose a bet, start all over again by betting $20.

Like many elements of gambling, the best overall strategy is to study and be diligent.

Part of that diligence comes from identifying sites or casinos with reduced juice or better odds on the same event. This is called Line Shopping. While it might take some extra work, it’s one way to get the edge you need to be a long term winner.

Parlay Betting Tips and Strategy

One valuable trick for online punters is to make use of free play bonuses offered up by some sportsbooks. Keep in mind, with most free bets you only keep the profits whereas with a real cash bet you make the profits and get to keep the original wager.

Another thing you can do is look for bettable correlated outcomes. While it may be true that a casino won’t offer the obvious ones (ie Over/Under halftime with Over/Under full time), there are other events in sports that have potentially connected outcomes that make a parlay bet very inviting.

  • A simple example is when you have a good read on a team to cover the spread easily. Take football as an example. If you predict the underdog will cover the spread, then there is a strong logical deduction that it is their defense which is keeping the game tight. In this case you’d parlay the underdog to cover the points with a Totals bet on the Under.
  • The opposite would hold true for taking the Over when you are confident that the favorite will easily cover point spread.
  • These concepts aren’t always obvious but it’s worth spending some time wrapping your head around them. They can make a big difference to whether you’re a winner or a loser.
  • Here’s another example: If teams are playing separate opponents near the end of the season and the games are staggered in time, if the result of the first game drastically changes the importance of the second game, you can adjust your parlay bet accordingly.

Imagine one of the teams in the early game must win to stay in playoff contention but you think they will lose. If you are correct in your prediction then subsequently the team in the later game who they were chasing, the one that is now guaranteed a playoff spot, might rest more starters knowing they have secured a playoff spot. That’s going to make a big difference to the outcome of that second game.

There are tons of tricks like this and the more time you spend doing the work and understanding the dynamics, the more profitable betting opportunities will present themselves to you.

What Is a Parlay Hedge Bet?

When you place a parlay bet, the games you’re betting on don’t have to begin at the same time. Many parlay bets are made with games taking place at all sorts of varying times of day. In some cases the results of some parts of your parlay might not even be the same day, week, or month.

It’s your decision as well as how far ahead a casino will construct a parlay.

The reason this is important is because the time gap can induce some important questions, namely:

With this gap in time I have an opportunity to hedge my bet and guarantee some profit.

When should I hedge my position and for how much?

A hedge bet is when you can make a secondary bet against your original bet. This can insure you a profit regardless of the outcome but it’s important to remember that it will always limit the potential maximum profit you could have made on your original bet.

For example, let’s say you have a $20 5-game parlay in the NFL. Let’s assume this bet pays $800.

Four of your picks, all afternoon games, got off to great starts and held up. Your bet now rides entirely on the late game. If your pick wins you’re taking home a huge payday. If they lose, however, your ticket is headed for the trash.

Half an hour before kickoff you’re biting your nails wondering if you should hedge. Why? Because if you place a bet against yourself in the final game you can guarantee overall profit for the day.

Imagine the last part of the parlay was just a coin flip that paid 1:1.

If you needed heads to win on the 5-game parlay for a $800 payout, you can leave it be and hope for the best. The payout would be large but the loss would give you some sleepless nights.

But what if we hedge the bet and put $200 against the team we bet on in the parlay?

Parlay Wins

We graciously accept our 5-game parlay winnings of $820 ($800 + $20 initial bet) and see a nice $620 profit ($820 – $200 hedge bet loss).

Parlay Loses

Well, it sucks that our 5-game parlay lost but we still have the $200 bet that pays us $400 ($200 win + $200 initial bet). That gives us a nice $180 profit on the day ($200 – initial $20 parlay bet).

Ultimately you have to make a decision but it’s a sweet place to be. If you get up on a ticket with one game to go you have to decide whether to:

  • Let your original parlay ride 100%.
  • Hedge the bet, guaranteeing earnings but eliminating a maximum payday.
  • If we decide to hedge, how much?

* One important thing to remember with hedge bets is that if you do decide to hedge, your new bet must be at least equal to, or greater than, your initial parlay wager size.

Are Parlay Bets Worth It?

The jury is out on this one. Many people, to this day, still consider parlay bets to be sucker’s bets but others will tell you this is a misconception. The truth of the matter depends on the bets inherent in the picks made and the reasoning behind them.

A savvy bettor will tell you that a parlay, if correlated, is the right bet to make because you have an edge that the casino didn’t see (or didn’t want you to see) and you can get higher odds on the parlay than the two bets individually.

Something to consider, however, is that even if/when you do have a strong take on a correlated outcome, if the contests are at different times of the day you may get better value by simply betting your desired amount on the first event and then parlaying the full amount (profit + initial bet) into the subsequent bet. This way you can get better odds and don’t have the house taking the same juice that they would have if you made the bets together.

Obviously this is time dependent but a good option to consider. The catch-22 here is that if you think the outcome of the first match is correlated to the second, so too will most good bookmakers. So you will either need to bet the second game extremely quickly (before the line moves) or miss out completely.

The Choices Are Endless

Whether you’re a thrill seeker or the conservative type, the way you choose to spend and wager your money is up to you. The beauty of it all is that you can try things out whenever and however you want.

While throwing caution to the wind may not be the most lucrative long-term strategy, a large parlay could end up filling your pockets and giving you a story to tell your gambling buddies for years to come.

Our best advice is to study the sports you’re most likely to gamble on. Figure out where you might see correlated or semi-correlated outcomes and make use of that logic in your final gambling decisions.

The internet is a great resource for learning more. Check out our in-depth betting strategy guides and do a few Google searches to find our more.

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Richard Janvrin

Sports Betting Analyst

Online Sports Betting
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After graduating from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in Journalism, Richard Janvrin has been covering iGaming and sports betting since December 2018. Richard has covered betting at Bleacher Report, Gambling.com, The Game Day, Forbes, and more.
Nationality: American
Education: Bachelor of English/ Journalism
Favourite Sportsbook: FanDuel Sportsbook
Favourite Casino: BetMGM Casino
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