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Parlays In Sports Betting And How Do They Work

When you first start betting on sports, you immediately encounter a whole variety of bets. Go to the website of almost any bookmaker and you'll almost certainly see an ad prompting you to make a parlay bet, tempting you with attractive odds and a chance to win big.

In this article we’ll discuss what a parlay is and how to use it. But first of all, it is important to point out that bookies just love you making parlay bets as the probability of winning them is lower which is obviously very profitable for them. Keep that in mind and don’t get carried away.

What Is A Parlay And How Does It Work?

This is one of the most popular tools in sports betting. A parlay isa single wager consisting of two or more bets which all have to win in order for there to be a payout. For that reason the winnings are usually higher.

The more bets added to the parlay, the more the possible payout is. However, adding bets in your parlay also increases the risk of losing. If a single bet included doesn’t win, the whole parlay loses.

Examples Of Parlay Bets

Let's take a closer look at some examples.


Let’s start with the world’s most popular basketball league. Imagine a classic night of a regular season with multiple scheduled games:

  • Brooklyn Nets v Chicago Bulls;
  • Milwaukee Bucks v Utah Jazz;
  • LA Lakers v LA Clippers;
  • Boston Celtics v Atlanta Hawks;
  • Miami Heat v New York Knicks.

Making a wager including all five matches with, let’s say, home sides defeating the away sides would be an example of a five-team NBA parlay.


Now, let’s turn to the world’s main ice hockey league. Let’s say, you’ve got three matches starting in a couple of hours:

  • Pittsburgh Penguins v Chicago Blackhawks;
  • Tampa Bay Lightning v St. Louis Blues;
  • Boston Bruins v Buffalo Sabres.

If you put your money on Penguins beating Blackhawks, Tampa beating the Blues and Boston beating the Sabres, this would be classic example of a three-team NHL parlay.


It goes without saying that football attracts a huge number of parlays so let's take a look at a typical day's fixture of a regular season.

  • New York Jets v Cleveland;
  • Washington v Detroit.

Naturally, making a wager on the result of both matches would obviously be a two-team NFL parlay.

How To Make A Parlay Bet

This kind of betting is available both online and in-person in all bookmakers so making a parlay is pretty easy. If you’re gambling online, select the first bet you want to add in your parlay without submitting it. After that, you will see an ‘Add to your wager’ (or similar) button while selecting the next bet. Once you’re finished, all you have to do is enter the amount you want to wager and submit.

Calculating The Payouts

Every sportsbook will calculate the potential payouts for you. However, you can do it yourself if you want.

  • Convert the American odds into decimal odds (if you’re in the United States);
  • Multiply the decimal odds together;
  • Multiply the result of the previous step by the amount of your bet;
  • Subtract the amount of your bet from the result to find out the net profit.

As an example, let’s say you want to bet $100 on a four-team NBA parlay, where the odds of every outcome you’ve chosen are 1.50. This is what your payout will look like:

  • 1.50 X 1.50 X 1.50 X 1.50 = 5.0625;
  • 100 X 5.0625 = 506.25 payout;
  • 506.25 - 100 = 406.25 net profit.

If you were to split that $100 of yours to make four individual bets, your net profit would be considerably less.

(1.50 X 25 - 25) + (1.50 X 25 - 25) + (1.50 X 25 - 25) + (1.50 X 25 - 25) = 12.5 + 12.5 + 12.5 + 12.5 = 50 net profit.

In fact, even if you made four individual bets of $100 each, your net profit would still be less.

(1.50 X 100 - 100) + (1.50 X 100 - 100) + (1.50 X 100 - 100) + (1.50 X 100 - 100) = 50 + 50 + 50 + 50 = 200 net profit.

There’s also a possibility that one or two of your bets included in the wager will not win and not lose, which would mean a refund in the case of individual bets. Here’s how the math works in that case.

  • 1.00 X 1.00 X 1.50 X 1.50 = 2.25;
  • 100 X 2.25 = 225 payout;
  • 225 - 100 = 125 net profit.

Tips For Parlay Betting

Our main tip is not to expect too much profit when making parlays. However, this can be a great way to add some adrenaline while you’re actually watching games. Here’s what else to remember if you want to try out parlays.

The Math Is Against You

Statistically, due to the probability of winning being less, it’s not a good idea to use parlay bets if you want to make some real cash. Multiple studies show that sportsbooks make more profit from parlays than from individual bets. That is why lots of the bookies’ bonuses and special offers are connected with parlays.


Another thing to remember is that many sportsbooks don't allow you to make parlays with multiple bets on a single event so were you to manage to do that due to technical error, a bookie would simply declare it null and void.

Some bookies also set a limit on how many bets you can add to your wager. Another possible limit a sportsbook may set is about prop bets. Some operators do not let their customers parlay prop bets. Don’t forget to check your betting platform’s rules before you start gambling.

Keep It Low 

If you still want to try betting parlays and expect them to win, then you should consider low odds your best friends. Choose the outcomes that cost 1.50 or lower when you’re gathering a parlay. This tactic does not guarantee you a profit, but it will reduce the risk of losing.

Manage Your Budget

Always remember that the risk of losing a parlay is very high. Keep this in mind when you enter the amount of your bet, and never play all in. This will help you not to exceed your financial limits and to always have some backup cash on your account.

Understanding Parlay Odds

Having discussed how to calculate your winnings another crucial thing to remember is that the parlay odds will always be positive. This provides a larger payout in case your parlay hits. The more events you include in your wager, the more your payout’s going to be.

Positive odds are 2.00 and higher. If your $100 wager on 3.00 hits, you’ll get a $300 payout and $200 net profit.

Types Of Parlays

The two most common types of parlay are called Round Robin and Teasers.

Round Robin

This strategy is useful if you want to minimize your potential financial losses. Here is how it works: let’s say, you want to make a parlay which includes three soccer games.

  • Liverpool v Leeds United
  • Aston Villa v Manchester City
  • Arsenal v West Ham

Choosing the Round Robin system means that you don’t make a single parlay with all three games included, but make three smaller two-team parlays.

Classic three-team parlay: Liverpool wins, Manchester City wins, West Ham wins.

Round Robin:

  • Liverpool wins, Arsenal wins.
  • Manchester City wins, Arsenal wins.
  • Liverpool wins, Manchester City wins.

Thus, if one of the chosen outcomes doesn’t happen, you will have one winning parlay anyway. The payouts in that case are lower, since you’ve added less bets to your wager, which means lower odds. But you will avoid losing the entire amount of money you wanted to wager on a three-team parlay.


Bets from the teaser category allow the player to adjust the required number of points for a point spread or an Over/Under bet. Moneyline is not available in teaser bets. Depending on the number of points added, the player changes the odds and the chances of winning his bet. Let’s take last year’s NBA finals’ participants as an example.

MarketRegular betSix-point teaser bet
Milwaukee Bucks (handicap)-5.5+0.5
Phoenix Suns (handicap)+5.5+11.5
Over/Under220.5Over 214.5; under 226.5

So, you can place a bet with basic handicap and over/under indicator, or choose a teaser option. This tool expands the number of points that teams can score so that your bet remains a winner. At the same time, as the teams gain points from the teaser, the odds (payout and net profit also) will be changing in real time.

Parlay Cards

These are mostly used by offline bookmakers. Here is a standard set of odds used to determine the parlay payouts. Parlay cards are especially popular among casual bettors in the United States during the football season.

Instead of the parlay odds calculations we discussed earlier, parlay cards offer a set payout amount for point spread and Over/Under parlays, depending on the number of games you choose.

  • Three-team parlay - 6.5
  • Four-team parlay - 12
  • Five-team parlay - 23
  • Six-team parlay - 45
  • Seven-team parlay - 89
  • Eight-team parlay 176
  • Nine-team parlay - 351
  • 10-team parlay - 701
  • 11-team parlay - 1,301
  • 12-team parlay - 2,501

Pros & Cons Of Parlay Betting

OK so now let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of betting parlays.


  • Heightened odds and a possibility of massive payouts;
  • A number of tools and strategies to minimize risks and potential financial losses;
  • A fun way to add some adrenaline while watching a game;
  • A possibility to collect bonuses from your operator. Some of the bookie’s special offers are often available only when you bet parlays.


  • High risk of losing;
  • A poor way to bet on sports in terms of long-term expected profit;
  • Parlays are one of the main sources of any sportsbook’s income (for reasons wew’ve mentioned);
  • By betting only parlays, you run a greater risk of going on a losing streak which mayhave negative consequences for your mental health.


Parlays is one of the most popular and common types of bets out there. If you’re not looking for easy money and just want to spend a fun Saturday night watching several games, then you can surely try them out. Who knows, maybe you’ll become one of the lucky ones to pocket $1 million from $10.

Play Responsibly

At Responsible Gaming Network, we strive to convey the idea that gambling can and should remain a great hobby. No matter what kind of bets you prefer, always approach the game responsibly. Do not perceive gambling as your main source of income, do not exceed your own financial and time limits, and be sure to use the responsible gambling tools provided by your sportsbook.

Anton Spesivtsev
Anton Spesivtsev
1 December 2022 13:51