How Does a Parlay Bet Work?

Disclaimer: Online sports betting is coming to Arizona. This page will be updated with live odds and bonus offers as soon as AZ sportsbooks launch. 

If you are just getting into sports betting or need a little refresher on one of the most popular wagering terms, you will learn everything you need to know about parlays here. Arizona is set to become a big player in the sports betting space, and parlay wagering is very popular.

A parlay bet consists of multiple outcomes. It’s also somewhat of an all-or-nothing style of wagering. To achieve a winning bet, every leg of the parlay must be correct. If even one piece of the parlay is incorrect, the entire wager loses. They are difficult to win, which is why they lead to rather large payouts even when risking a small amount of money. Consistently winning parlay bets is a difficult strategy, but some bettors find them highly profitable.

We will break down all the basics of parlays, how to calculate them, and send you on your way with some parlay betting advice.

Parlay bets explained

A parlay bet is a unique type of sports bet, and they can be very attractive. Parlays require the bettor to correctly predict a group of individual bets bundled together. For example, you could be looking at FanDuel Arizona on an NFL Sunday and find the three best possible wagering options. After doing your research, you decide on the Arizona Cardinals +3.5 against the New England Patriots, the Over 45 to hit in the Denver Broncos vs. Las Vegas Raiders game, and for the Miami Dolphins to cover the -2.5 spread over the New York Jets.

Of course, you could bet all of these wagers individually. But in the case you are feeling incredibly confident, you could group them together in a parlay for a larger payout. If all three of these combinations are correct in your parlay, your bet is a winner. That’ll be a nice return. However, if any of these outcomes do not go your way, the entire bet is a loss. To be clear, if you hit two out of three, or 99 out of 100 bets in a parlay (to be hyperbolic), you still lose the bet.

Do parlays have big payouts?

The appeal to parlay betting is definitely the return. Bettors are very attracted to parlay sports betting because they can risk a small amount and come away with a significant profit. However, the reason the payouts are so large is due to the difficulty of actually hitting parlays.

Oddsmakers are not stupid. That’s why sportsbooks are going to continue flourishing for a long time. They recognize how sports bettors are attracted to parlay betting, especially recreational bettors, and as the number of potential outcomes add up in a parlay, the less accurate the odds become. At a certain point, the odds land heavily in the favor of the sportsbook. The bettor has lost any statistical edge, and they may not even realize it.

Calculating parlay odds & payouts

Calculating parlay odds can be difficult. Sportsbooks will utilize formulas distinct to their platforms. To easily calculate the potential payouts, you could go to your preferred online sportsbook, enter in the outcomes you’d like to bet in the parlay, and enter the amount you’d like to risk. Oftentimes, sportsbooks will show you what the payout would be if the bet is a winner. There are also plenty of sports betting calculators on the internet.

For the purpose of this article, let’s put together some hypothetical parlay odds. In the NFL, let’s say you’d like to wager on the Arizona Cardinals to cover the -2.5 point spread over the Seattle Seahawks, as well as the Over 45.5 point total to hit in that same game.

Assuming the spread and total are at -110 odds, an $11 wager in two different bets would carry a combined $22 risk and a $20 potential profit. However, if you were to parlay them together in one wager, the odds turn to +264. That means an $11 parlay bet would turn into a $29.09 profit if both outcomes prove correct.

To guarantee yourself the best possible odds, we recommend opening accounts at multiple sportsbooks. That way, you can shop for the best number. Sportsbooks are not always exactly aligned. A great way to maximize your profit would be to check with each sportsbook for its parlay payout on a winning wager.

How to make a parlay bet

Now that you know the basics of parlay betting, here are some examples we made up involving three of the top professional teams from Arizona: the Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, and Arizona Diamondbacks.

NFL parlay bets

Let’s start with the NFL bets, the king of sports betting in the United States. Believe us: plenty of parlay wagers are placed on professional football. In this example, let’s take three NFL wagers on the spread and parlay them together. We’ll start with an example you might see at DraftKings Arizona. Take the Arizona Cardinals -6.5 in their matchup with the Los Angeles Rams and parlay it with the New Orleans Saints +2.5 vs. the Minnesota Vikings, and Green Bay Packers -1.5 against the Chicago Bears.

With each point spread set at the traditional -110 odds, the three combined turn into +596 odds. Let’s say you placed a $10 wager and hit on all three of these bets in the parlay. You’ve turned a $59.57 profit. Not bad.

NBA parlay bets

Betting on the NBA is also very popular in the United States. In our example, let’s place another parlay wager mixing together point totals, point spreads and the moneyline. Looking at BetMGM’s AZ sportsbook, we might take the Phoenix Suns as 3.5-point favorites over the Orlando Magic, bet the Los Angeles Lakers and Washington Wizards to land under 210 points, and let’s pick the Milwaukee Bucks to win outright as -220 moneyline favorites with the Miami Heat.

With the first two at the standard -110 odds and the -220 moneyline wager, a victory for all three at $10 down would net a $43 payout. But let’s also paint an unfortunate scenario. Remember, if the Bucks cruise to a victory and the Suns cover the spread but the Lakers and Wizards catch fire and surpass 210 points, that whole bet is a loser. In this respect, a parlay is a house of cards. Be perfect, or it all falls down.

MLB parlay bets

In our next example, we’ll go to MLB betting and take strictly moneyline bets with the Boston Red Sox at -245, Arizona Diamondbacks at -200 and New York Yankees with -135 odds. All each team has to do to is win, and when parlayed together, the moneyline parlay pays out a $26.76 profit on a $10 bet.

The different types of parlays

OK, now parlays can certainly become more complex than what we’ve described above. Those were the basics. But some additional parlay wagering options include round robins and teasers.

In a round robin, you can essentially create multiple parlays through one single wager. Round robin wagers minimize risk, though they have a lesser payout than traditional parlays do. In our example, let’s say you would like to place a three-team round robin with the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and Los Angeles Rams all to win their next games. A round robin bet involving these teams would create parlays including the following:

  • Cardinals, Seahawks, Rams
  • Cardinals, Seahawks
  • Rams, Cardinals
  • Seahawks, Rams

Then, you cheer on each combination, and the payout increases based on the number of parlays you predicted correctly in the round robin bet.

A teaser bet acts the same, as the different combinations must be correct for a winning bet, but there’s a big twist. The sports bettor can manipulate the lines. For example, a bettor could look at the Arizona Cardinals getting -3 odds and give themselves a better shot at covering by changing the line to +4. Then, you would do the same for another game and combine them together into a teaser. Since the lines are moved heavily into your favor, the payouts are not nearly as substantial as traditional parlays.

Why people bet parlays

People bet parlays for a variety of reasons. For one, the payout can become quite high as mentioned earlier. Additionally, they are fun ways to wager, especially as you advance through each leg of the parlay, getting closer and closer to a big payday.

Drawbacks to betting parlays

Despite the thrill, there are several reasons to consider not becoming a regular parlay bettor. As mentioned earlier, parlays pay out like crazy because they’re so hard to hit. If a sports bettor can break even in sports betting through single-game wagering, that’s a remarkable accomplishment. So you could just imagine how hard it is to convert parlays consistently.

Additionally, the more outcomes added to the parlay, oftentimes the odds will become less and less fair for the sports bettor. If you are new to Arizona sports betting, you will learn quickly the industry heavily favors the house. Sportsbooks typically make a killing with parlays. That’s precisely why they will continue to offer them as sports wagering continues to grow in the United States.

How to force true odds on a parlay bet

We all know there is usually no such thing as true odds in sports betting, which is why sportsbooks remain in business. Parlays offer much worse odds than single-game wagers do, but there’s a way for sports bettors to trick the system and force true odds for themselves in a parlay.

The traditional odds for a point total or point spread are set at -110 on each side. However, sometimes oddsmakers may set them at -105 or -115 for example. If one of the legs in the parlay is something other than -110, the sportsbooks will provide odds that are far fairer than if all legs of the parlay came in at -110. The bottom line is you will receive a higher payout if you simply add one leg that is not -110.

What happens when a bet pushes in a parlay?

When there is a push in one of the bets in a parlay, that item is simply eliminated. If your three-team parlay features a push to one of the outcomes, it’s now a two-way parlay. For a two-team parlay, a push to one outcome is now a single-game wager.

How do progressive, multi-chance and open parlays work?

Plenty of different parlay modes are available to sports bettors. Let’s take a quick look at progressive, multi-chance, and open parlays.

  • Progressive: In a progressive parlay, bettors can still earn money even if one or more of the wagers in their parlay are incorrect. They will typically consist of anywhere from four to 12 legs, and only point spreads and point totals are allowed. For a progressive parlay involving 4-6 teams, the bettor is allowed to have one push or loss. For 7-9, there is a margin for error for two teams and for 10-12 outcomes, bettors may afford three incorrect wagers.
  • Multi-chance: A multi-chance parlay acts the same as a progressive parlay with one twist. In this type of wager, the sports bettor will receive the same amount of money if they win the bet no matter how many games above the threshold they picked correctly.
  • Open: In an open parlay, bettors begin with one wager. If they pick it correctly, they can let it ride on another bet whenever they want. This can go on for a while, but sportsbooks may have a limit on how many wagers can be placed in an open parlay. Some books don’t offer it at all; check your favorites.

Tips for successfully betting parlays

Since you’ve read this far, you are likely already interested in parlay betting. So we’ll skip the part where we further caution you not to bet them constantly; here’s some key parlay betting strategy and advice for bettors.

  • Bet fewer combinations: Yes, you may hear the stories publicized about the amount of money somebody won with 10 different point spread combinations. But that person essentially hit a lottery. They won’t have that kind of luck in the long haul. Keep control of your parlay depth.
  • Bet small: One basic benefit of parlay betting is that you can bet a little amount of money to gain a lot. Therefore, many will advise you to not bet more than your usual wagering amount on parlays.
  • Hedge when possible: You may have heard the term “hedge your bets” before. That can definitely be utilized in parlay betting. If you have a large parlay about to hit with just one outcome left, you can cover yourself by betting the opposite way of the final outcome. This way, you can guarantee some profit no matter what. Plus, you avoid the heartbreak of the final game costing you the entire parlay. If you lose the hedged bet, you’ll have that big parlay win to keep you warm at night.

Is a parlay a bad bet?

Most of the time, sports bettors will not receive fair odds from the oddsmakers in a parlay wager. That’s why sometimes parlay betting is referred to as a sucker’s bet.

Now, consistently winning with a parlay strategy is highly unlikely to work in the long run. Maybe you can get lucky and hit on a parlay for a big payout, but it’s likely you would have lost quite a bit of money wagering on parlays prior to your payday.

Still, betting on sports is designed for entertainment, and parlays can absolutely be a thrill. If you get into sports wagering strictly to make money, it’s probably wise to stay away from parlays. However, if you’re into sports betting for some fun, without tons of money being thrown around, an occasional parlay could really enliven your weekend.