Parlay Betting

If you have done even a shallow foray into the pool of sports betting, you have probably heard the term “parlay.” It’s a more complicated than your standard one-way bet, but the overall concept is still fairly simple and easy to grasp.

So, What Is It, Exactly?

ParlayA parlay is simply a single bet that links two or more separate bets together. You would put down this bet in order to increase the payout of a potential win. There are more factors in play than there are on a standard bet, but the appeal of this bet is the greater reward.

You need to win every game on the ticket in order to get a payout. You’re not betting on just one team to win, you’re betting on multiple results. The reason for the higher payout is obviously that your chances of nailing every single pick are slimmer than if you had just placed a single bet.

Let’s use a football as an example: if you think the Cowboys, Packers and Texans are all locks to win on Sunday, you can play a three-team combination bet. If all three teams win, you win the bet and the high payout. If one of the teams happens to lose, though, you lose the entire bet.

If one (or more) of the bets winds up pushing, the bet is simply downgraded to a two-team series of bets or a single bet, for example. The bet is still on, unlike if one of the teams loses.

Most of these are spread bets, which makes hitting on one even more of a challenge. In the example we used above, we will say the Cowboys are favored by three, the Packers are favored by 6.5 and the Texans are two-point favorites. In order to win the bet you not only need those three teams to win, but you need them each to cover the spread. If one of them fails to cover the spread, the bet is lost.

Why not just place two or three separate bets instead? Combining them carries greater risk, but there is also much more profit potential considering the odds are much lower than they are for a standard bet on just one game.

True Odds vs. Fixed Odds

Sports BettingMost sportsbooks nowadays will offer one set of fixed odds for an entire parlay. Rather than going through each game you want to put and calculating the odds of all of them together, you can get a simple moneyline or fraction odds on the whole thing.

Obviously, the more teams you put into your bet, the lower the odds of winning are going to be. A two-game bet could have 3/1 odds, but a 10-game bet will have a substantially lower chance of hitting. A huge parlay with 1,000/1 odds is quite the longshot, but that is certainly the allure of it. If you somehow nail every pick, the payout will be monstrous.

Making the distinction between true odds and fixed odds is crucial. To put it simply, true odds are the actual likelihood of an event happening, while fixed odds are the odds generated by bookmakers.

This is not a sports analogy, but we can use a coin flip bet as an example. The odds of a flip resulting in heads or tails are even at 50/50. Let’s say you want to place a parlay bet on the results of three coin tosses. If you do a little bit of math, it is easy to calculate the total number of possible outcomes for these three coin flips.

It can come up heads or tails all three times. It can come up heads twice and tails once. It can come up heads once and tails twice. If the order of results does not matter, there are four possible outcomes. If you were to place a bet on the same outcome four times in a row, you could reasonably expect to be correct one time and incorrect three times. As a result, the true odds in this instance would be 3/1.

Placing a bet where the fixed odds are more favorable than the true odds is a shrewd financial strategy. The value is superior on the fixed odds, so the payout should be more substantial than it would be using only true odds.

Sportsbook Odds

Most Las Vegas sportsbooks will put 6/1 fixed odds on a three-game series of wagers. Unfortunately, the true odds of such a bet are typically worse than 6/1.

For another example, we can use moneyline odds. We will say you want to place a three-game bet on the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets are -140 to win, the Heat are +180 and the Spurs are listed at -160.

Calculating the true odds of this bet is relatively simple. Grab your calculator and get ready to do a little division and multiplication.

You would be laying $140 on the Rockets to win $100 back. If you divide your winnings ($240) by the risk amount ($140), which comes out to 1.71.

With the Heat, you are risking $100 to win $180. If you divide $280 by $100, that comes out to 2.8.

You are putting down $160 to win $100 back on the Spurs. $260 divided by $160 is 1.62.

Now, you multiply all three of those results together. 1.71 x 2.8 x 1.62 is about 7.76. So, the true odds of you winning the three-team bet would be about 7.7/1, which is clearly worse than 6/1. As a result, this would not be a great value bet.

Finding a parlay with better true odds than fixed odds can prove difficult, but it is possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all teams have to play the same sport?

No, you may place a combination bet using multiple teams across different sports. If you are feeling particularly frisky, you can cram NFL teams, MLB teams, NBA teams, NHL teams and soccer teams all into the same bet if you so choose.

Most of these bets involve teams that play the same sport, and they are particularly popular in football where most games occur at the same times on the same day. It is not required, though.

Are all of them spread bets?

The most popular types of parlay bets are spread bets, but not all. You may also place this bet on things like the moneyline or the implied total. For example, if you think the Kings and Pacers are a lock to hit the over, while the Cavs and Nets will hit the under, you can bet on them.

What is a correlated parlay?

It’s not something that is offered by every sportsbook, but they are out there if you can find them.

For example, some books may allow you to bet on the spread with the implied total. Common logic suggests that if a game hits the over, then the favorite is more than likely to cover that spread.

Again, this is not very common, though, and plenty of sportsbooks do not offer the correlated option.

What is a Round Robin parlay?

This means creating multiple series of bets very quickly. For example, if you feel particularly strongly about one team’s chances of covering the spread and want to try and maximize your payout, you can put in a Round Robin bet.

We will use another example here: you feel great about the Patriots covering a -7 spread, but you are eager to make as much cash on that as possible. Rather than creating a three-game bet around the Pats, you can enter three separate two-game Round Robin bets in an attempt to score all possible outcomes.

So, the Round Robin might look like this:

Bet 1:
Patriots -7
Bills +3
Bet 2:
Patriots -7
Cardinals -6.5
Bet 3:
Cardinals -6.5
Bills +3

You risk the same amount on each of the three separate bets, and the wagers will be settled under standard guidelines. You may enter more than three teams in a Round Robin, but the more teams you enter drives up your total bet risk, as well.

If you bet $5 on each of the individual two-way Round Robin bets at 2.6/1 odds, you stand to win $39 total if you win.


A parlay is an easy way to maximize your profit potential if you feel particularly strongly about a few separate lines. There is tons of risk, as one misstep will kill the entire bet, but the potential earnings are huge, especially with a larger bet.

Doing as much research as possible is always crucial to success in sports betting, and proper caution is required. It may be easy to get carried away if you get too aggressive. So, if you are just dipping your toe into the sports gambling waters, it may be best to steer clear of trying your hand in this type of a bet until you gain more knowledge and experience.

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