What is a Parlay?

Even if you are new to sports betting as it moves toward legality in Ohio, you still have likely heard of a parlay. You may, for instance, hear about a bettor who cashed in big on a large parlay for a massive payout. That is the major appeal of parlay betting for recreational bettors, though many pros stay away from them.

The winnings can be substantial, but sportsbooks make a lot of money on parlays, which is why they offer them. In this guide, we will take you through the basics of parlay betting, including whether these wagers are worth placing, betting tips, examples of what a parlay bet would look like and more.

What is a parlay bet?

A parlay is an all-or-nothing style of wager where more than one outcome must occur for the bet to win. No matter how large the parlay is, it loses if you get just one leg wrong. If you place a parlay involving 10 NFL point spreads one Sunday, it won’t matter if you predicted nine of them correctly. If you don’t get all 10 right, you lose.

When you consider how difficult it is to profit on regular bets like a point spread or point total with a roughly 50% chance of getting it right, it’s much more difficult to consistently win parlay bets, which is why many bettors are against them even though they can produce a decent payout with a winner.

Do parlays have big payouts?

They can, and the common thinking is you can give yourself a chance at winning a lot of money despite risking a small amount. This can be a profitable bet in some cases, but when you need many wagers to be correct, the parlay is going to be a loss more often than not.

Sportsbooks love to publicize when someone wins a big parlay because they understand that is good for business. Sportsbooks make a lot of money on parlay bettors because that is generally not a sustainable betting method to earn a long-term profit.

When a sportsbook issues a news release that one of its bettors turned $5 into $100,000 on a 15-leg parlay, the goal is to attract more bets like that one. While such wagers may go the bettors’ way in a few instances, most of the time they’re a way for the book to make money.

Calculating parlay odds

Sports bettors who are in this industry as a profession put a great deal of time and energy into understanding every detail about the odds, which is why many of them avoid parlays.

Let’s say you found three-point spread bets you like and are considering putting them into a parlay. The spread betting odds you are getting for each are the standard -110. First, let’s take a look at what the difference would be if you bet on all three of these outcomes individually versus grouping them together into a parlay.

Had you bet $10 on each outcome individually at -110 odds, and all three bets ended up being correct, your total wager of $30 would result in a profit of $27.27. However, instead of betting $30 total across three bets, let’s say you decided to wager $30 on those three games as a parlay. If you’re right on all three, your $30 bet would result in a profit of $178.74.

That significant difference in payout is the reason many bettors place parlays. The reason many bettors won’t place that bet is that there is a significantly higher chance that you end up winning nothing. Consistency is key in turning a profit in sports betting, and that’s tough to do when you’re taking chances on multiple outcomes.

Examples of parlay sports bets

Now that you have the basics of what a parlay is, let’s put them into action with some examples you might see across the three major sports in the United States:

NFL parlay bets

The NFL is king when it comes to sports betting, and parlays are no different. Say you identify three wagers you’d like to make, and you put them all into a parlay to give yourself a greater payout if they all come true. Here’s what that NFL sports betting parlay might look like:

  • Cleveland Browns -2.5 (-110) vs. Baltimore Ravens
  • Indianapolis Colts +4.5 (-110) vs. Green Bay Packers
  • Cincinnati Bengals -9.5 (-110) vs. New York Jets

If the Browns, Colts and Bengals cover their spreads, you have won your parlay. If you placed $10 on this parlay, you would net a $59.58 profit if each of these outcomes is correct.

For more specific info and odds on the Bengals, and odds on the Browns, check out our dedicated NFL team odds pages.

NBA parlay bets

In another example, let’s say you wanted to take a look at tonight’s NBA betting slate. Instead of strictly relying on point spreads, you combine a spread bet with a moneyline and a total bet. Here’s a look at what your parlay could look like at DraftKings Sportsbook in Ohio:

  • Cleveland Cavaliers -4.5 (-110) vs. Miami Heat
  • Los Angeles Lakers/Sacramento Kings over 210.5 (-110)
  • Boston Celtics (+190) vs. Utah Jazz

Point spreads and totals will usually be around -110 for most sportsbooks, but money line odds can vary. In this scenario, you are combining two wagers with -110 odds in addition to a +190 moneyline as you’re predicting the Celtics will win outright as underdogs, leading to a higher payout. A $10 wager on these outcomes in a parlay would result in a $95.69 profit if correct.

MLB parlay bets

In our final example, we’ll head to MLB baseball betting and show what happens when a push is involved. If a single bet pushes, all bettors would just get their money back as if the wager hadn’t happened. Here’s an example of what would happen with a push in a parlay:

  • Cleveland Guardians (-130) vs. Milwaukee Brewers
  • Pittsburgh Pirates/St. Louis Cardinals under 8.5 (-110)
  • Los Angeles Dodgers/San Francisco Giants over 8 (-110)

Let’s say Cleveland won its game, and the Pirates and Cardinals hit the under, so your first two bets cashed, and now you’re just waiting on whether the Dodgers and Giants will hit the over. In this scenario, we’ll say the Dodgers won 5-3, so the run total landed exactly on 8, which is a push. That piece of the parlay would drop out as if it never happened, and your three-leg parlay would end up as a two-leg parlay.

Find live Guardians odds and live Reds odds and start betting on MLB games online.

Why do people bet parlays?

People bet on parlays because they love the idea of winning big without risking a significant amount of money, as you’ve seen with some of the examples above. Cashing in big on a parlay can be a thrilling feeling, especially as you get close to the final outcome. However, many people who bet on parlays probably do not understand the fact that they’re not getting true odds, and as the number of outcomes increases, the advantage continues to go toward the sportsbook.

Are parlays worth it?

This is up to the individual bettor. Before you ever place your first wager, you should have an established idea of what you want your sports betting life to be about. If you are getting into sports betting strictly to gain some additional income and are serious about making money, you’re probably better off staying away from parlays. They are not set up for long-term success and instead aim to take advantage of the betting public, which almost always loses money in this industry.

On the other side, if you are simply into sports betting to add a little more excitement to your sports fandom, throwing a few dollars at a parlay that could potentially hit big could be an entertaining way to pass an evening. Just understand that the odds are not in your favor.

Shopping for the best parlay odds

If you are planning to place a parlay bet, shopping for the best lines is important to maximize the payout you could potentially receive. Line shopping is something all people who want to make money in sports betting should be doing. You will have plenty of sportsbook options available, and instead of simply relying on one, you could open accounts at a few different books.

When you see the combination of games you’d like to place into a parlay, you could check the different sportsbooks you have an account with and see which one is offering the best odds. Sportsbooks will often have similar odds for each game, but some could be slightly different. For example, if you see the Cleveland Browns are getting +155 moneyline odds on the Caesars Sportsbook app and +160 on the BetMGM app, you would likely place your wager through BetMGM because it offers a slightly higher payout. Sports betting is all about gaining slight edges, and while the small difference does not seem to be a lot, the value could add up over time.

Hedging your parlay bet

An important part of parlay betting is the idea of hedging. This is when you bet in a way to guarantee yourself some sort of payout as a few legs to the parlay start to cash. Here’s an example of where this would make sense.

Let’s say you’re betting on five NFL point spreads. The bets were spaced out so the first four occur during the day, with the final leg coming in Sunday Night Football. In our example, you predict the first four correctly with just the night game to go. This is a perfect time to hedge.

Your final bet of the night is the Cincinnati Bengals at -4.5 in a matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the Bengals cover, it would lead to a huge payout, but you would risk losing the entire wager if they fail to come through. To hedge, you would place a single bet against the Bengals.

With all five spread bets getting -110 odds, the payout would come out to a $243.59 profit on a $10 wager. You wouldn’t see that much of a payout if you hedge. But by hedging, you would guarantee yourself at least one winning bet and minimize your potential losses.

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