Once you've mastered taking it one bet at a time, you may be tempted to bundle together a batch of bets for a bigger payout, which is what's known as parlay betting.
Anyone can get lucky betting a single game or player prop to earn some winnings. Threading the needle on a parlay does take some good fortune, yet it also takes serious skill and a well-informed knowledge base to ensure you hit all the bets, or "legs" of the parlay.
Keep reading to discover more about parlay betting, what it means, examples of it in action and how to best approach such a thing that has so many moving parts.
Maybe you love betting on the New England Patriots, but there might be other NFL games you feel good about that Sunday. Instead of placing a single bet on those games separately, a parlay bet allows you to combine the New England game with another one — or more.
Let's go with this year's Week 4 schedule and build a parlay through DraftKings:
As the screenshot shows, sportsbooks will have their own parlay calculator for you. As you add more teams to the betting ticket, the odds will go up, and you can type in your desired wager to see what the payout would be. In this instance, we went with $10 to keep the math simple.
To be crystal-clear about one key thing: You must win all the bets on the ticket to win the parlay payout.
In the above example, we picked the underdog Bears to upset the Colts, and to mix things up a bit, decided to take a favorite with the Saints (-4) over the Lions. That hypothetical $10 bet on a two-team parlay will pay a total of $42.35 if both bets hit (+324 odds).
We're starting with two teams, but you can also build a three-team parlay, and if you wanted to go bolder, have a higher betting bankroll, and wanted to bet $100 instead of $10, how about picking the Cardinals (-3.5) to cover against the Panthers and adding that to the ticket, along with the 49ers (-7) over the Eagles. You'd win $1,569.42 off that $100 bet.
If you'd bet $100 on a single-game spread, like the Niners-Eagles game, that same $100 bet would only win $91. You can tack on as many teams as you want, at least to a point. Although we wouldn't recommend a 10-team parlay, the odds become astronomical. If the betting gods smile upon you, it could result in a monstrous payday on a minimal bet.
Whether you're building a parlay of game outcomes, player props — not from the same game, more on this soon — or a mixture of those, you'll often hear each individual bet in a parlay referred to as a "leg." That's all it means. One single bet equals one leg of the parlay.
There's a chance one of your parlay legs, if you bet on a whole-number line, could result in a push. All that does is simply eliminate that bet from the ticket. It doesn't mean you lose the parlay. It just means you won't earn any winnings from that leg of the parlay.
In the case of the two-team ticket above, let's say the Saints beat the Lions 27-23 to Seattle. They're voided from your parlay, so if you hit the Bears' moneyline, you get paid out based on the odds of that win.
Banking on a 10-team parlay, while potentially very lucrative, isn't really a viable, smart or consistent sports betting strategy. It's akin to chasing unicorns. The smart way to go about betting parlays is to limit the number of legs you use, so that your margin of error isn't razor-thin. Next, because the odds are stretched longer, you can invest far less than you would on a single-game bet and earn far more.
In other words, don't wager as much on parlay bets as you would on a single bet. Your odds of winning are far worse than hitting just one bet, so with multiple teams in the mix, don't sink a ton of cash into it. Ideally, at the dawn of your parlaying journey, you'll want to limit betting tickets to a maximum of four legs. Two teams doesn't net you the type of rewards that make a parlay worth doing in the first place, so going with a three-team ticket or just adding one more to that is a feasible point of entry.
This may seem obvious, but bet on the sport you know best when starting out. Don't shy away from underdogs, but be smart about mixing and matching. Rarely will all the favorites cover on a single parlay bet, and conversely, not all underdogs are going to cover the point spread. When you're putting underdogs on the ticket, too, it's wise to take use the point spreads to your advantage, as opposed to betting the moneyline — unless you feel really strongly about a particular team.
There's an ominous phrase in sports betting: "chasing losses." What this means is, if a bettor is having a bad day, there's the temptation to try to win everything back at once, rather than being fiscally responsible, sticking to a budget and trusting that the losses will even out over time as long as there's a consistent, sound strategy in place. Emotions can take over, and the prospect of nailing a parlay is an appealing way to rally quickly and get out of the red.
Parlays must be well-planned, exhaustively researched and confidently wagered on. Placing bets and hoping for the best isn't a great idea. You'd rather lose a parlay via "paralysis by analysis" instead of being ill-prepared before you submitted a bet and watched that money go right down the drain.
Like with single bets, you can bunch together multiple events in a live parlay, but you really need to be tuning into all the games, or have a great feel for all the teams involved if you're going to go this route. If the team or player you like is trailing, chances are you can get them at better odds live, depending on how far into the matchup it is. Or, with more certainty that a team is going to win, you can group together multiple favorites and bet as if you're throwing down on a pre-game single bet.
The edge you get with pre-game parlays, though, is that the lines aren't moving much, you usually have multiple days to review all the relevant information and stats revolving around the matchup, and can make a sound, logical decision in the face of less pressure. The only major betting line live parlays may be advantageous for is the Over/Under, because that's probably the hardest main line to nail in pre-game bets on a consistent basis, so having the benefit of seeing how a game starts to unfold in real time is extremely beneficial to those particular bets.
Live parlays can present a potential problem for bettors, particularly those new to the scene. Getting swept up in the emotion and adrenaline of a live sporting event can cause judgment to be clouded.
Here's a little more advice about the perils of parlays: be very careful about taking the plunge live. You're likely not going to be able to think through whether it makes sense to bundle certain bets together, because you either won't be witnessing all the games in question, or there's simply not enough time to think through all the important factors.
Sportsbooks have varying restrictions on what's allowed to be included as part of a parlay. As a general rule, any bet within the same game can't be combined together in a parlay. Any odds boost offers will be standalone bets that you can't lump into a parlay — and even some of those promotions will be parlays in and of themselves.
Don't be alarmed if you get to your betting ticket and can't execute a parlay. It simply means you have some bets on there that can't be grouped together.
As of the time this was being written, the NFL slate was closing in on Thursday Night Football between the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals. Maybe you liked recently-paid Bengals running back Joe Mixon to find the end zone and for Cincy to upset the Browns on the road. DraftKings can offer you that in their "Game Props" section at +320 (a $10 bet wins you a $42.50 total payout):
That's essentially a two-leg parlay, because you're betting on the individual prop of Joe Mixon to score a touchdown and the Bengals' moneyline. The sportsbook is simply combining those odds (or thereabouts) together for you, yet it takes some digging to find them.
Diving a little deeper into the parlay betting game, you get into the concept of teasers. A teaser bet is a parlay, but with a modified point spread. That is, you as the bettor are in control of the spreads, and are given a certain amount to add or subtract to the spreads on your parlay betting ticket.
The same principles apply: select as many legs of a parlay as you want, and then you'll see a list of options to either increase the amount of points you get for each spread, or decrease, thus even further increasing your parlay odds and potential payout. For this example, we'll use a screenshot previously cited in our overarching article on point spreads:
As this betting ticket shows, picking the standard option gives you more points to play with, but the odds go down, along with the profits you stand to win. It minimizes the risk of taking on a parlay, yet you have to bet an amount closer to what you would on a single bet to reap the appropriate rewards. If you go the opposite way, the winnings go way up! Alas, it comes at the cost of far more risk, at least on paper.
Teasers are for the sophisticated, advanced bettor. Unless you have absolutely expert knowledge in a particular sport, stick with the regular parlays first before you start taking the odds into your own hands. Oddsmakers tend to be really good at their jobs, particularly at the major sportsbooks, so bucking all their listed lines in a teaser is an audacious move to be sure.
By the odds alone, you're not expecting to win a parlay as much as you're hoping your hard work, research and numbers crunching combine to win you more than you would by betting games or props on an individual basis. If you stretch beyond a two-legged ticket, it becomes downright joyous to root for your own personal underdog story to come to fruition.
To reiterate the key pointers for parlays: don't get in over your head with too many legs. Begin and proceed with the sport you know best. You're better off starting off with pre-game parlays as opposed to live ones. Don't chase losses by mindlessly rattling off multiple parlay bets. But most importantly, let it be a fun, pleasant surprise if you do hit these. They can provide a quick boost to your betting bankroll, yet a parlay shouldn't be your primary lifeblood as a bettor.
For more on the various types of wagers you can make in sports betting, visit abe's "How to Bet" hub, which has a number of individual articles dedicated to making you a better bettor. Whether you're a beginner and need an introduction to basic betting principles, or are interested in more advanced concepts, we have a little bit of everything for you to help optimize your sports betting experience.
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