Despite being one of the most popular bets at any sportsbook, parlay betting gets a bad rap from sharps, many of whom consider it a sucker’s bet.
While it’s true that you assume more risk when betting parlays, there’s no reason why you need to lose your shirt doing so — if you know what you’re doing, that is.
In the guide below, we’ll reveal the secrets that professional gamblers know about proper parlay betting strategy — the math behind it, when to do it, when to avoid it at all costs, and a whole lot more.
We can’t promise that this will make you a winner, of course — but it should get you a whole lot closer than those punters who are just pulling bets out of their…er…hats.
What is Parlay Betting?
Simply put, a parlay bet is several bets all combined into one. The catch is that, to win the parlay, you must win all the individual bets that make up the parlay.
For example, in a regular sports bet, you might take the Bears (+5) against the Packers. If the Bears win or the Packers don’t cover, you’ll win the bet — easy peasy.
In a parlay, though, you might stack several bets on top of that initial bet (each bet in a parlay is called a “leg”). So, in addition to the Bears (+5), you might also have:
Now, to win the parlay, you have to win every single one of those bets. If you win the first three but the Bengals get blown out by the Chiefs, you lose the entire parlay. There are no points for “close enough.”
You should immediately be able to see one of the primary limitations involved in betting parlays: it can be really hard to win, and it only gets harder the more games you add.
No matter how good you are at betting parlays, you should expect to lose more often than you win. That’s just the nature of the beast. The question is whether you can win enough when you do hit a parlay to make up for all the losses along the way.
Why is Parlay Betting So Popular?
For years now, parlays have been one of the most popular bets at any sportsbook, and the demand for them only seems to be growing.
But if they’re so difficult to win, why on Earth would so many people want to bet them?
Two reasons: you can win big with them, and they’re incredibly fun.
As mentioned above, it’s very hard to hit a parlay, and it becomes exponentially harder the more legs you add to your bet. The payoff rises as well, to the point where you can occasionally see the possibility for massive paydays if all the stars align.
You know how you’ll periodically hear about some bettor who won millions on a $20 bet? That’s because he bet a massive parlay — probably 10 legs or more — and then got incredibly lucky.
The odds of that happening are about the same as winning the lottery, so don’t get your hopes up too much. Still, the possibility for a massive score definitely exists.
Part of it is due to simple psychology as well. When you win $500 on a $10 bet, you feel like you’ve struck gold — that’s a huge return for a small wager. You’re not likely to notice that you spent $700, $10 at a time, before you hit that score.
Even more than that, though, parlays are popular because they’re fun. You know the thrill of watching a meaningless regular season NFL game to the end, just because you want to see if your team will cover?
Take that thrill and multiply it several times. That’s the fun that parlays can offer you.
They’re also fun because you’ll either be in a position where the suspense keeps building to dramatic levels, or you’ll immediately be eliminated (and free to bet other parlays).
For example, if you lose the first leg of your parlay, you don’t even have to bother with the rest of the games on the docket. It doesn’t matter if you win them all — you’ve already lost your bet.
However, if you bet a five-leg parlay and win the first three, the anticipation will be incredible when you watch the last two games. The suspense is unbelievable — which makes the emotional payoff unbelievable as well, regardless of whether you win or lose.
It’s basically like watching sports on steroids.
Types of Parlay Bets
Parlays are technically a category of sports bet, and they have several subcategories underneath them. Meaning, any bet that has multiple legs will be considered a parlay, but those bets can take different forms.
Here are a few of the most popular:
SGPs have exploded in popularity in recent years, and are now one of the most popular bet types in all of sports.
A SGP is exactly what it sounds like: a parlay in which all of the legs are contained to a single game.
SGPs are sometimes called “correlated parlays” as well, since they rely on correlated events. Sportsbooks used to distrust these bets and many banned them, but they’ve proven so popular (and so many punters make terrible SGP bets anyway), that they’re now the backbone of many bookies’ strategy.
Part of the reason for the surge in SGP betting is that they can be very logic-based wagers, which appeals to analytical punters. Basically, you can look at the odds for various bets on a game and reason that if Outcome A happens, then it’s very likely Outcome B will happen, and so forth.
For example, let’s say the Chiefs are favored by 10.5 against the Texans, and the over/under is set at 31. If you think the Chiefs will cover the spread, then it stands to reason that they’ll have to score a lot of points — which makes a bet on the over a smart play as well.
Then, it’s just a matter of extrapolating from there. A game in which the Chiefs light up the scoreboard is probably one in which Patrick Mahomes has a huge day, so betting on his props might be smart. He’ll have to throw to someone, so maybe you think Travis Kelce will have himself a game as well.
You can push this as far as you like, but as you can see, there’s a clear logical thread running through each leg.
Teasers are parlay bets on either the spread or over/under, but with a twist: they allow you to move the line by a few points in any direction.
Of course, the sportsbooks aren’t going to let you do this out of the kindness of their hearts, so you’ll have to “buy” those points. This means taking a reduced payout if you win.
While this increases the chance that you’ll win any particular leg of your parlay, the added padding rarely compensates you fairly for the risk involved in making a parlay in the first place.
For this reason, many sharps prefer to bet straight parlays instead — after all, if you’re going to make risky bets, you might as well chase an incredible payout for your trouble.
A round robin parlay is kind of like a boxed bet in horse racing. It’s a great way to create multiple parlays out of a single group of games, and you can quickly make hundreds of bets simultaneously if you like.
For example, let’s say you had a three-team round robin with Team A, Team B, and Team C. You could make bets on Team A and Team B, Team A and Team C, and Team B and Team C, as well as one with all three teams included.
You would be betting the same amount on each leg of the parlay, and the payouts would vary depending on the odds on the teams involved. It’s possible to win multiple legs of the round robin (and, of course, it’s possible to lose them all as well).
If this sounds confusing, the good news is that most online sportsbooks make the process as easy as possible. You can just pick the teams you want to include in your round robin parlay, and their software will do the rest.
Round robin parlays can get expensive quickly, but the good news is they dramatically increase the chances that you’ll win at least a leg or two of the bet. Just be careful to do your homework and not throw teams in the mix on a whim.
These bets also have some of their own colorful jargon, such as:
- Trixie: three two-team parlays and one three-team parlay
- Yankee: 11-bet parlay
- Canadian: 26-bet parlay
- Heinz: 57 bets in all
- Super Heinz: 120 bets
- Lucky 127: a whopping 127 bets in all
The way some of these massive round robin bets work is by adding single bets in with the parlays. As you might expect, this massively increases your exposure, but also improves your odds of winning at least a few wagers.
Best Parlay Betting Sites
1. BetOnline — Best Parlay Betting Site Overall
This is our favorite sportsbook for just about any type of bet, but the parlay betting experience here is especially impressive. They have an entire section devoted to same-game parlays, and you can easily build your own by using the “Parlay” tab on their interactive bet slip.
They also have a generous first-time deposit offer. Simply enter code BOL1000 when you make your account, and you’ll qualify for a 50% match up to $1,000. This offer requires a $55 minimum deposit, and comes with a 10x rollover.
Check out a full BetOnline sportsbook review from our team.
2. Bovada — Best for Custom Parlays
You’re not going to find a more fun parlay-building experience than the one at Bovada, we can pretty much guarantee that. They have a dedicated prop builder page that allows you to make just about any bet under the sun, and then it’s simply a matter of linking them together.
Not only that, but they allow you to request special bets on Twitter using their #WhatsYaBet feature. It’s perfect for creating bespoke parlays.
There are two primary deposit bonuses here, one for fiat currency users and another for crypto aficionados. The first is a 50% match up to $250 — no code necessary.
The Bitcoin promo is a 75% match up to $750 using code BTCSWB750. Both offers are subject to a 5x rollover requirement.
Check out a full Bovada review from our team.
3. BUSR — Biggest Deposit Bonus of All Parlay Betting Sites
BUSR also has a dedicated props builder page, but beyond that, their parlay offerings are pretty basic. You likely won’t mind, though, because they have a ton of betting markets, giving you plenty of options to choose from when creating your bet.
The deposit bonus is almost as gigantic as their betting markets. You get a 150% match up to $2,500 on your first deposit using code SPORTS100FP. This offer has a few more strings attached than some of the others, though, as you have to deposit a minimum of $100 and satisfy a 20x rollover requirement.
4. MyBookie — Best for Beginner Parlay Bettors
The betting experience at MyBookie is about as simple and intuitive as you could hope for. Want to build a parlay? Simply click on all the bets you want to include, and the bet slip will do the rest for you.
It’s a clean, easy point-and-click experience that makes the site extremely welcoming to novice bettors.
If you enter code MYB50 when making your first deposit of at least $50, you’ll get a 50% match up to $1,000. A 10x rollover is attached.
Check out a full MyBookie review from our team.
5. Everygame — Best for Experienced Parlay Bettors
Everygame lies at the other end of the sports betting spectrum from MyBookie. That’s not a criticism — as you become a more seasoned punter, you’ll grow to appreciate their no-nonsense approach to building parlays.
Rookies might find it a tad intimidating at first, though.
Their deposit bonus is $750 over your first three deposits using code 3XBOOST250. Each bonus has a mere 4x rollover requirement.
Calculating Parlays — The Math Behind the Bets
Are Parlays Smart Bets?
While no one denies that parlays are fun, you’ll get a wide range of responses if you ask if they’re actually good wagers.
Many sharps stay away from them at all costs, considering them to be sucker bets reserved for casual punters. Others swear that you can find value in parlays if you know where to look.
So who’s right?
Both sides can be right, honestly. The fact is that betting parlays isn’t likely to be a bedrock of any winning sports betting strategy. You’re chasing long odds in the hopes of getting lucky every now and then — not something that you can really rely on for a steady weekly revenue. Avoiding parlays entirely likely won’t make the difference between being a winner or a loser.
On the other hand, you can find value in parlays occasionally, and most sharp bettors would tell you that your job is to take advantage of those situations wherever you can find them.
They likely wouldn’t recommend that you play parlays exclusively, but if you see some juicy odds, why not chase the big score?
The important thing to remember here is that a parlay is like any other sports bet: if you don’t do your research and you’re just guessing, you’re going to lose in the long run. Don’t look at a parlay as a big pot of stew that you can throw a bunch of random ingredients in and come out with a tasty dish.
The fact of the matter is, most people lose at parlays because most people lose at sports betting, period. If you have bad habits — like not doing your research, failing to line shop, or practicing poor bankroll management — you’ll go bust no matter what types of bets you make.
At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference. Want to avoid the swings that come with parlays? You’ll find no judgment here. Want to make them a part of your smart betting portfolio? We have no issue with that, either.
Parlay Betting Strategies
Now that we’ve made our position on parlay betting clear, there’s one more question we need to answer: just what does a smart parlay betting strategy look like?
There’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to this question, so in this section we’ll cover some popular parlay strategies used by some of the top sports bettors in the world today.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
As we’ve alluded to above, a parlay is only as good as its individual legs. If you include dumb bets in your parlays, you’re going to lose.
That’s not to say that you’ll definitely win if you’re only making smart wagers — this is still gambling, and these are still longshot plays. But your odds will skyrocket if you’re making smart, well-reasoned bets, as opposed to just throwing darts at a betting sheet.
That’s especially true for same-game parlays. If you think you’ve found value (like our example of Chiefs +10, over 31, and over on Mahomes props), then ride those all the way. Don’t also throw in one that goes against the grain, like an over on Mahomes interceptions.
The one exception here is if you’re hedging — more on that in a minute.
Do Not Parlay 50/50 Bets
Most recreational parlay bettors stick to point spread bets, over/unders, and other wagers that have a roughly 50/50 shot of hitting. This is understandable — it makes things very simple and easy to understand.
It also makes it very easy for the bookies to take your money.
The numbers here just don’t add up in your favor. Take a three-leg point spread parlay, for instance. Your true odds of hitting three 50/50 bets is about 8-1…but most sportsbooks will only pay you 7-1 if you hit. The math isn’t there.
Some bettors claim that you can still include 50/50 bets in your parlays if you feel that the odds are wrong; meaning, that they’re not true 50/50 bets (maybe due to a steam move or something similar).
While a situation like that is definitely an exception to the rule, you’re still likely better off gambling on those games individually rather than adding them to a parlay.
Play Wong Teasers
While we’re not huge fans of teasers in general, there is one exception: the Wong Teaser.
Named after Stanford Wong, the author of one of the most popular sports betting books ever written, the Wong Teaser is a football betting strategy that takes advantage of the inherent scoring model in the sport.
Wong knew that the most common point differentials in football games are 3 and 7 points (or a field goal and a touchdown, respectively). He then theorized that moving the lines between those numbers would maximize profitability.
The idea is to move the lines outside those two numbers in six-point intervals. For example, let’s say you’re thinking of teasing the following bets:
- Cleveland Browns +1.5
- Arizona Cardinals +2.5
- Buffalo Bills -1.5
You would then move the numbers outside the 3- and 7-point spreads, increasing your odds of a cover. Those bets would then turn into:
- Cleveland Browns +7.5
- Arizona Cardinals +8.5
- Buffalo Bills -7.5
The math here is sound. Most teasers used to have -110 odds, which means to break even on a three-team teaser, you’ll have to win 72.5% of the time.
Wong’s teasers, on the other hand, win closer to 75% of the time. It may not seem like much, but sports betting fortunes are built on finding value like that.
The only problem is that most bookies can do this math as well, and some have made moves to limit the use of Wong teasers. This could mean changing the price so that they’re no longer profitable, or limiting your action if you start to kill them.
Still, if you ever come across the possibility for a Wong teaser, jump on it.
Don’t Limit Yourself to a Single Sport
The most successful sports bettors generally tend to be the most selective as well, and they’ll only bet on games they have a very strong feeling about.
More casual bettors, on the other hand, are chasing action, and that means they just want to stay in the game. They’ll take any bet they can think of and throw it in the parlay — it just adds to the fun, right?
If you’re a sharp sports bettor, though, the issue becomes finding those smart bets. There might only be one or two that you like on any given NFL weekend, so does that mean you can’t play any parlays?
No, not necessarily. You can always include events from other sports in your parlay if you like. There are almost always multiple sports running on any given day, so don’t be afraid to combine them.
After all, a parlay made up of an NFL bet, a couple of MLB wagers, and a golf prop or two pays as well as any other.
Don’t Be Afraid to Hedge Your Bets
Hedging means to bet against one leg of your parlay (usually the final one) in order to lock in a guaranteed profit.
For example, let’s say in the last leg of your parlay, you have the Bears +7 against the Packers. If you win, the parlay will pay out $1,000. If you lose, you get nothing.
In that case, you might want to bet $500 on the Packers. It will cut your potential profits in half, but you’ll be guaranteed to walk away with $500 at the end of the night.
There’s not really a hard-and-fast rule here, as the math should work out the same in the long run either way. It just comes down to your tolerance for risk.
Some people prefer to let their bets ride and chase the big score, while others can’t handle the crushing disappointment that comes with watching a big payday slip through their fingers.
We will say this, though: if you’re the type of bettor who chases losses, it’s probably smart to do everything you can to prevent any losses from happening in the first place.
Guide to Parlay Betting – FAQs
Can You Win Real Money Betting Parlays?
The answer to this is the same for winning money on any other sports-related wager: you can, but that doesn’t mean that you will. The fact is that a very small percentage of sports bettors turn a profit, so while it’s possible you’ll join their ranks, the odds aren’t in your favor.
How Many Legs Should Your Parlay Be?
The number of legs you include in your parlay depends on what your goals are. If you’re trying to turn a profit, then fewer is better (and two is probably ideal). However, if you’re chasing a huge score (or a great story), then feel free to go for 10 legs or more.
What Happens If One of My Legs Gets Canceled or Ends in a Push?
If one of the legs of your parlay pushes or gets canceled, that leg will be removed from the bet and your odds will be recalculated. If you’re betting a single-game parlay, then your bet will be voided and your money returned to you.
What Are the Odds of Winning a Parlay?
Your odds of winning your parlay will vary depending on how many legs are involved, as well as the odds on each individual leg. At the most basic level, a two-team parlay with 50/50 odds will have 3-1 odds — and an 11-game parlay with 50/50 odds will be a 2047-1 dog!
Parlay Betting Tips
If you want to maximize your odds of being successful betting parlays, here are a few tips that can make a ton of difference for your bankroll.
Not every sportsbook will have the same odds on the same game, and finding a difference of just a point or two could make the difference between winning or losing a parlay.
With that in mind, you should shop around for the best lines before committing to a parlay. We’d recommend opening an account at all the major sportsbooks and keeping at least a little bit of cash on hand so that you can jump on a juicy opportunity when one comes along.
Take Advantage of Free Bets
Parlays are, by their very nature, longshot bets. You can win a lot of money all at once, but you should expect to lose a little bit of money more often than not.
So how can you tilt the scales in your favor? By taking advantage of any free money the bookies hand out.
Many sites offer free bets or other deposit bonuses to entice new customers into signing up. Why not use this bonus cash to chase a big payday? It really helps even out those longshot odds.
Not only that, but using free bets on parlays is generally a better use of the money anyway. Most sportsbooks only pay out profits on free bets and not the original stake; meaning, if you used a $10 free bet on a -110 favorite, you’d get $9.20 back — not the $19.20 you’d normally get for winning a bet like that.
Your free bet won’t count in a parlay either, but if you’re getting huge odds, you won’t miss it nearly as much.
Learn About Cash Outs
Some sportsbooks offer the opportunity to cash out a bet early. In the case of a parlay, if you won the first three legs of a five-leg parlay, the bookie might allow you to cash out for reduced profit without having to see the last two legs through.
This is another tool that’s excellent for risk-averse punters. Of course, it’s not often used, as risk-averse punters usually don’t bet parlays in the first place.
Similar Betting Guides:
Two (or More) Legs Are Better Than One When Betting Parlays
While it’s not for the faint of heart, parlay betting is one of the most fun (and exciting) ways of wagering on sports. If you like the idea of hitting a massive payday on a small outlay, this is the bet type for you.
We’d recommend doing the bulk of your parlay betting at BetOnline, as they’ve gone above and beyond in tailoring the parlay-building experience to satisfy punters of all experience levels. You can also check out the other sportsbooks listed above — they all have their own charms.
Betting parlays might not be a high-percentage play, but if you’re gambling for fun, you’re not going to find a more exciting bet anywhere. And best of all, not only can you play for big money, but win or lose you’re likely to get a great story out of it.
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