Parlay Betting Explained

For decades, one of the most well-known horse racing wagers with the betting public has been the trifecta. In this wager, you are asked to correctly pick the top three finishers in a race. Isn't that hard to do? It most certainly is, but the kicker is that when you hit it, you hit on a big payday. And that's why it's so popular with the punters who don't have the kind of cash flow at their disposal to make a significant straight wager. It's a chance for the little guy to hit it big.

Parlay Your Way To a Payday

The same formula holds forth with parlay wagering on sporting events. By packaging two, three or four games on the same betting slip, you can turn a small wager into a large profit margin. You are able do this with any sort of wager you desire - point spreads, moneylines, total - it's all good. And the more games you opt to parlay on the one ticket, the greater the odds of the return on investment. That's why parlays are such a big hit with the betting public.

How To Parlay

The most popular of the so-called exotic bets, parlays ignite the dream of every gambler - to gain a huge payout from a small wager. Here's how it works:

You pick out the games you want to play on your wager. Then you pick the type of bet you want to parlay. You can go anywhere from two games on up, and the more games you add, the greater the potential but at the same, the more likelihood that you will fail to cash in a winning ticket. Getting one game right is a challenge. Hitting on a pair of games is tougher, hitting three is rare and hitting 10, well the odds of that are right up there alongside hitting the lottery.

Some sportsbooks will even permit you to parlay two wagers on the same game. Let's say the Miami Dolphins are playing the Carolina Panthers in an NFL tilt. You like the Dolphins at +150, but you also think it will be a high-scoring game, so you want to bet over on the total of 49. Why not combine the two wagers into a parlay bet and make even more money?

When placing parlay bets, here's some sage advice - the wise parlay bettor risks small wagers in order to gain greater odds, because the odds are long against you being successful on your bet. But people do hit on parlays. And when they do, the parlay party is quite the affair.

Moneyline Parlays

A moneyline parlay is set apart from other parlays, because the moneyline odds on each game aren't the same, so the formula for calculating your winnings is also different.

  • You pick out a select number of games to play on your parlay ticket. For sake of argument, we're going to discuss moneyline wagers on the NHL.
  • You like the Pittsburgh Penguins to win at +130, and also the Nashville Predators at +110. But you think the Toronto Maple Leafs are a viable road underdog and are including them in your parlay at +190.
  • You bet a $10 ticket on these three games. 
  • Let's say things go good right off the bat and the Penguins win. You've gained a return of $23 on that bet, and that money is now wagered on the Nashville game. Another win and your pot has increased to $48. 
  • Finally, you've got the Leafs playing on the West Coast, and they also come through. You get a $91 win on that victory and your successful three-game parlay has returned a tidy $139 on your $10 investment. Not a bad day's work.

Point Spread Parlays

A point spread parlay works differently than a moneyline parlay, because while each game may have a different point spread on it, the odds are the same on every game.

This is how point spread parlays generally pay out on a winning wager at the vast majority of sportsbooks:

  • Two teams 13-5
  • Three teams 6-1
  • Four teams 10-1
  • Five teams 25-1
  • Six teams 40-1
  • Seven teams 75-1
  • Eight teams 150-1
  • Nine teams 300-1
  • Ten teams 600-1 

If you played a three-team parlay on a $10 ticket, at these odds you would win $100 if your parlay were to hit. Based on the same $10 wager, a six-team parlay returns $400, while an eight-team parlay would bring back $1500. And a 10-team parlay would score you an amazing $6000 payday. 

Now do you understand why bettors find parlay wagering to be so tempting?

Should You Parlay?

Absolutely you should, on occasion. Parlays should not be the staple of your wagering menu, but they are a tasty and tempting appetizer that is worth sampling every so often. But they can be fool's gold, so the danger is when you go all-in on parlays and chase that elusive big payday. The next thing you know, you're broke, awash in a sea of losing tickets.

Do the math and it's obvious - parlays are difficult bets to win. The lure of the huge return when packaging several teams into the same bet must be tempered with the reality that hitting on that many games in a row is vastly unlikely. Think of it like the lottery. It's not uncommon to get one, even two numbers right on occasion. But hitting as many as three numbers on the same ticket is a rare occurrence.

There's a reason why Proline, the sports lottery in Ontario, Canada, requires you to pick a minimum of three games on a single ticket, because they know how long the odds are that you will correctly call three games in succession. It just doesn't happen very often.

Sportsbooks love the parlay because the odds on this wager are so strongly tilted in their favor. And if there's one thing thing house likes above everything else, it's keeping as much money as possible. Consider that the mathematical odds of correctly calling 10 games in a row is well over 1000-1, yet sportsbooks only pay out on this wager at odds of 600-1. 

Is the parlay a sound wager? Realisticially, it is not. Now we're not saying don't ever parlay. All we're saying is make it a small part of your betting strategy, and who knows, it might just pay off big one day.