To Parlay, or Not to Parlay?

The Straight Scoop

A parlay is a single bet on two or more games at the same time. Unlike the straight wager, where the player bets a certain amount on the outcome of a single game, with parlay betting the customer wagers on multiple games. The more games that are played on a single parlay bet, the higher the payout odds.

Parlays bet using point spreads (football and basketball sides and totals) will follow affixed odds based the number of games you play. These odds will vary by sportsbook, quite a bit in some cases. The chart below lists the parlay payouts from three popular online sportsbooks.

# of Teams Sportsbook 1 Payout Odds Sportsbook 2 Payout Odds Sportsbook 3 Payout Odds
2 13 to 5 13 to 5 2.64/1
3 6 to 1 6 to 1 6/1
4 10 to 1 10 to 1 12.28/1
5 20 to 1 25 to 1 24.35/1
6 40 to 1 40 to 1 47.41/1
7 75 to 1 75 to 1 91.42/1
8 100 to 1 150 to 1 175.44/1
9 150 to 1 350 to 1 335.85/1
10 300 to 1 700 to 1 642.08/1
11 450 to 1 1100 to 1 1226.70/1
12 600 to 1 2500 to 1 2342.79/1
13 750 to 1 5000 to 1 4473.51/1
14 900 to 1 10000 to 1 8541.25/1
15 1500 to 1 22000 to 1 16306.94/1

Parlays using American odds like -120 or +165 (baseball and hockey sides and totals), are a bit more complicated to calculate. For those who demand to know the math behind the payouts, here is how a 3 team parlay payout is calculated.

For favorites, the parlay factor is calculated as: (money line + 100) / money line.

If you bet a three team parlay with X at -230, your parlay factor would be 1/.70 or 1.43. Your second team Z at -172 would have a parlay factor of 1/.632 or 1.58.

For underdogs, things are a bit easier.

The parlay factor is: (money line + 100) / 100. So, your third team Q is at +115, then the parlay factor would be (115+100)/100 = 2.15.

So now you've got three games that you'd like to parlay. The payout for the parlay would be the three parlay factors multiplied out, or 1.43 x 1.58 x 2.15 = 4.86.

Then take 4.86 and subtract 1 = 3.86.

Just like that. Nothing to it. Now go to one of the many parlay calculators offered online, and enter some random lines. You will see how much your payouts are affected according to the number of favorites and/or underdogs included in your parlay.

The Fine Print

Now that you know the odds, let's rundown rules.

  1. All games bet must win in order for the parlay to win (Two out of three ain't bad, but it won't win a parlay wager)
  2. Any game that is a push will simply be removed from your parlay, reducing your parlay by one team. (Beware of the sportsbooks who grade pushes as a loss. They are out there)
  3. Certain sportsbooks will not allow betting the side and total from the same game within a parlay. (Don't ask me why)
  4. Some sportsbooks allow mixing multiple sports within parlays and some do not. (Nobody wants to do the math involved, I guess)
  5. No changes can be made once a parlay wager is placed (Coach decides to give a couple of star players the day off just prior to tip off? Too bad. You better hope the second team answers the bell).

The Consensus

Clearly the risk of this type of wager is much higher, compared to the straight bet, where you must correctly guess the outcome of just one game, whereas here all games must be winners. To compensate the higher risk, the reward of a parlay is much higher.

To parlay, or not to parlay? This question has been debated by handicappers and gamblers of all levels. Page after page of mathematical analysis on things such as "target win rates" and "optimal returns per unit" have been calculated and poured over again and again. The profit expectation is far greater making straight bets than parlays. For this reason, many serious gamblers look at parlays as sucker bets. I disagree.

Although I wouldn't go around throwing large sums up on multi team parlays, there is no harm in laying some down for a few dollars here and there. Some sportsbooks take parlay bets for as low as 50 cents. If you're an action player, having a game bet in a $5 multi team parlay in lieu of betting it straight up, may be enough to satisfy the urge as well as save you a lot of money.

If you do end up hitting a big parlay someday, don't forget who gave you the advice. A small cut will suffice.

Good luck.