How Sports Betting Parlays Work

While folks in Michigan are excited about legal sports betting soon being available, they’re also beginning to realize that earning consistent profits while placing wagers on sports can be challenging.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to boost the bottom line substantially off of some well-placed inexpensive wagers? Thankfully, there is, and we’re going to tell you all you need to know about it right here.

Parlay betting offers you the chance to earn some serious bang for your buck, though just like other types of wagering there are no guarantees your bets will be winners.

That doesn’t mean there’s not a ton of appeal to be found.

It takes some time to get up to speed with sports betting parlays, but we’ve got you covered. We’ll be walking through all you need to know right here, and also provide examples of simple parlay betting strategies you can use right away.

Let’s get to it.

What’s a parlay bet?

A parlay bet is a wager in which you place picks for multiple outcomes on the same betting slip. As an example, you can include two moneyline bets on a single ticket, or do the same with three point spread wagers.

To win the bet, all of your selections must be correct.

For each outcome you add to the slip, the odds will rise accordingly. That enhances the potential returns, but that also comes with a caveat: the chances of hitting the parlay lessen with each additional choice added.

This makes parlays a bet type that falls into the category of high-risk, high-reward. Nonetheless, they are a very popular offering at sportsbooks. Parlays offer up the chance for substantial returns with a small outlay, which is not the case with other offerings on the wagering menu.

A parlay bet can be used with multiple sports, as well as multiple bet types. We’ll walk through several detailed examples shortly. For now, let’s take a deep dive into how the odds work for these intriguing wagering opportunities.

Parlay betting odds

For some sports bets, there’s a base range of odds you can expect to see, such as -110 for point spreads and totals. That’s not the case for parlay bets as each one is unique. The odds for the wager will depend on the number of contests added, as well as the lines for each selection.

To illustrate, let’s look at a pair of simple examples.

Let’s say there are two NFL games on the docket that you find appealing and they are listed with the following moneyline odds:

  • Detroit Lions -120 over Chicago Bears
  • Philadelphia Eagles -270 over Washington Redskins

You like the favored Lions and Eagles to win, so much so that you decide to take a shot at bigger returns by including both outcomes on the same betting slip. After doing so, you’re presented with parlay odds of +151. Even though you’re betting on two favorites, you still have a chance for a great return.

Now let’s assume you like two more games on the same NFL slate with the following moneyline odds:

  • Minnesota Vikings -180 over Green Bay Packers
  • Arizona Cardinals +270 over San Francisco 49ers

You like a favorite and an underdog, and you also decide to combine these two bets on a single slip. After doing so, the sportsbook presents you with parlay odds of +475. Since there’s an underdog on your ticket, you could see a fantastic return if all goes well.

As you can see, parlay odds can swing dramatically, even when it’s a situation when there are just two games on the ticket. That being the case, there’s no way to know for sure what the odds will be until you start adding games to the slip.

The exception to this rule comes when it’s a bet in which all odds are at the same amount, such as -110. Here’s how the odds look for a few different parlay tickets when that’s the case:

  • Two games at -110 equal total parlay odds of +264
  • Three games at -110 equal total parlay odds of +596
  • Four games at -110 equal total parlay odds of +1228
  • Five games at -110 equal total parlay odds of +2437
  • Six games at -110 equal total parlay odds of +4743

As you can see, the odds rise dramatically with each game added to the ticket. However, remember that with each game added to the slip, the likelihood of you being correct on all selections decreases.

How to place a parlay bet

Online and mobile sports betting platforms are smooth and intuitive, so placing a parlay bet is a painless process. The first step is to identify the games you’re interested in. After breaking down the games, you can then choose which ones you want to include on your parlay ticket.

A parlay bet requires a minimum of two selections, which are also known as legs. Many operators cap the total number of games that can be added to the slip. This number can vary from 10 to 15, so consult the rules and regulations for the book you are wagering with.

When you’re ready to place your parlay, you just need to click on the games you’re interested in, adding them one by one. For each selection you click, it’ll automatically be added to the slip. Once that’s set, review what you have added and the total parlay odds.

If everything looks good, it’s just a matter of adding your wager amount and clicking submit. The whole process is pretty quick, but remember to review the slip in full detail to avoid any unwelcome surprises due to mistakes.

Parlay betting examples

It can take some time to get up to speed with parlays, but a little practice can help you accelerate the learning curve.

Let’s walk through some detailed examples using a few different bet types with a varying number of selections for each.

Moneyline parlay betting

The moneyline sports bet is one of the simplest options on the board. As such, it makes for a great starting point for those new to the game. All you’re worried about is picking the winner of the contest.

The simple nature of moneyline bets also makes them a fantastic option for parlay wagers. When you have a slate of games in which you have a good deal of confidence in some winners, it can make sense to group those choices on a single slip for a shot at greater returns.

Consider the following two MLB games as an example. After handicapping both contests, you walk away convinced the following two results will come to pass.

  • Minnesota Twins -120 over Chicago White Sox
  • Detroit Tigers +150 over Los Angeles Angels

In addition to single-game wagers on both games, you decide to put both outcomes on a single slip. After doing so, you’re presented with odds of +358 for the two-game parlay. If you dropped a $20 wager on that, here’s what you’re looking at coming back if all goes well:

  • Winning a $20 bet at odds of +358 returns a total of $91.60, which is the initial stake plus a profit of $71.60.

If you’re right on both games, you’ve won your single-game wagers and snagged even better returns thanks to the parlay bet. While there are no guarantees all will break your way, the potential returns make parlays an enticing option.

Point spread parlay betting

The point spread bet is a bit of a tougher nut to crack in comparison to the moneyline. Beyond trying to figure out which side will win and lose, bettors also need to factor in the spread designated by oddsmakers.

The spread is akin to an estimated margin of victory. To cover, the favorite needs to win by an amount greater than the spread. For the underdog, a cover happens when they keep the game closer than the spread or win outright.

Similar to moneylines, a parlay spread bet makes sense when you have zeroed in on games you feel comfortable with. As an example, consider the following spreads for a trio of NBA games:

  • Detroit Pistons -2.5 (-110) over Indiana Pacers
  • Los Angeles Clippers +1.5 (-110) over Los Angeles Lakers
  • Houston Rockets -3.5 (-110) over San Antonio Spurs

Moneyline odds can be all over the map, but most sportsbook operators start with a range of -110 for spread bets. If you add all three of these games to the slip at -110, you’ll be presented with total parlay odds of +595.

Here’s the potential return for a $20 bet:

  • Winning a $20 bet at odds of +595 returns a total of $139 — the initial stake plus a profit of $119.00.

Parlays can return some nice profits. However, it’s important to remember that the risk increases with each selection you add to the ticket and there are no guarantees of a win.

Totals parlay betting

For our final example, let’s consider totals bets for the NFL. A totals wager is also known as an Over/Under. Oddsmakers will set the bar with projected total points scored in the game. Bettors then get to decide if they expect the final number to be over or under that amount.

If you come across several totals you like on the upcoming schedule, it can make sense to tie them all together on a single slip. Let’s say you like the following four totals from a weekly slate of games:

  • Chicago Bears vs. Detroit Lions Under 44 (-110)
  • Philadelphia Eagles vs. Washington Redskins Over 45 (-110)
  • Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings Over 46.5 (-110)
  • Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Under 46 (-110)

Just like spread bets, most operators use a base of -110 for totals. If you add these four outcomes to the same ticket, you’ll see total parlay odds of +1228.

For a successful $20 wager, here’s the return you’d be looking at:

  • Winning a $20 bet at odds of +1228 returns a total of $265.60, which is the initial stake plus a profit of $245.60.

Betting on parlays can lead to some nice scores, but it’s important to remember that there’s also a good deal of risk in the other direction. However, when managed correctly, parlays can fit well into your overall wagering strategy.

Simple parlay betting strategy

Parlay betting can be potentially lucrative, but there’s also a strong possibility you’ll have several losers mixed in with a few winners. After all, it can be tough to be right more often than not on single-game wagers.

When you’re looking to be correct on multiple outcomes on the same slip, the difficulty level kicks up several notches. We’ve outlined a way you can mitigate some of the damage and hopefully cash more tickets along the way.

If you have designs on long-term success with sports betting, then strong bankroll management is a must. At minimum, you should approach each slate of games you plan on betting on with a clear budget that you will stick to.

As an example, let’s consider a Sunday afternoon slate of 12 NFL games. Your overall strategy calls for single-game wagers on the five games you feel most confident about. You’ve budgeted $50 for each wager for a total outlay of $250.

While the goal is to go 5-0, you know that’s easier said than done. If you can manage to go 3-2, you’ll be ahead of the game. As a simple example, three winning bets at odds of -110 would return a total of $286.35, leaving you with a profit of $36.35.

You can build a bankroll in this fashion, but it can be a slow process. While you may go 3-2 more often than not, there will be weeks when you have losing records and some in which you knock it out of the park.

To expedite the process of building up your roll, you can take a crack at some parlay wagers. You can do so with a small amount, such as $20. If we add that to your initial outlay of $250, you’ll be in for a total of $270 for the week.

When you hit the 3-2 mark on single-game wagers, you’re still walking away with a little profit for your troubles before even factoring in any parlay winnings.

For the $20, you can take a shot at a single parlay, but it also makes sense to spread out the risk with smaller parlays. As a simple example, let’s say you decide to do one $10 parlay on two outcomes. For the other $10, you take a moonshot on a six-game parlay.

If we assume odds of -110 for all bets, here are the potential returns for the two parlays:

  • Winning a two-team parlay $10 bet at odds of +264 returns a total of $36.40, which is the stake plus a profit of $26.40.
  • Winning a six-team parlay $10 bet at odds of +4741 returns a total of $484.10, which is the stake plus a profit of $474.10.

If you hit the two-teamer, you have covered the outlay for both parlay bets. If you miss out on both, the $20 you spent on parlays is covered as long as you go 3-2 on your single-game bets.

This simple strategy can be adjusted for any budget, such as $20 on single-game wagers and $10 total for parlays, or $100 single-game bets and $50 parlays.

For another simple way to allocate funds for a slate of games, consider a hypothetical bankroll of $100. If you stick to specific benchmarks, you can not only bolster the chances for returns, but also track wins and losses to the tee.

Here’s an example allocation:

  • 80% of your budget on single-game wagers.
  • 10% of your budget on totals, props and live bets.
  • 10% of your budget on parlays.

As you move forward, you can quickly determine where your strengths and weaknesses are and adjust allocations as needed. If you crush it in one spot over several weeks, bump up the percentage in that area and reduce elsewhere.

Mistakes to avoid with parlay betting

Anytime you’re placing money at risk in a quest to earn even more, there are potential pitfalls and landmines to look for. It’s the same story with parlay betting. Let’s take a look at some of the more hazardous mistakes you’ll want to avoid.

Poor bankroll management

If you fail to manage your funds properly, then there’s a good chance you’ll be hitting the deposit button regularly. This can especially true with parlay betting as there can be gaps in between winning wagers.

Chasing your losses

You’re not going to hit all of your parlays. It’s important to realize that and understand it’s part of the game. If you get in the habit of chasing losses because you feel you’re “due for a win,” a rude awakening could be coming.

Having unrealistic expectations

Parlays are tough to hit, and it gets harder with each choice you add to the slip. As such, it’s important to go in with realistic expectations. Going all in and assuming you’ll hit a moonshot week after week is a recipe for disaster.

There are going to be bumps along the way, but you can learn from each one of them. If you can set a goal of having a disciplined mindset for parlay betting and all other forms of sports wagering, you’ll find the path can be much smoother.

Key takeaways on parlay betting

A parlay bet is a wager type in which you are including multiple outcomes on a single betting slip. The returns can be fantastic, but there’s also a good deal of risk involved. For each choice you add to the ticket, the chances of winning decrease.

A parlay wager requires at least two outcomes to be included in the bet. The maximum will vary by the sportsbook, but it’s typically over 10 selections. The bet type can be used on several  standard wagers, including moneylines, spreads and totals.

The actual odds for the parlay will vary depending on the number of selections you place on the slip, as well as the individual odds for each outcome. The simplest way to see potential returns is by adding the selections to the slip to see the final odds calculation.

Normal handicapping rules apply to parlays, and budgeting and bankroll management are a must. The potential returns can be very enticing, but it’s important to approach parlays with realistic expectations. When used correctly, parlays can be a solid part of a finely-tuned sports betting strategy.