What is a Parlay Bet?

Parlay betting continues to be an underutilized tool in a sports gambler's arsenal. So much attention is paid to actual wager types: the moneyline, point spread, over/under, even futures. That's sort of natural. After all, a parlay isn't so much an actual line; it's more like a custom bet slip. Its function is to drive up your potential return without increasing your overhead, while admittedly upping your risk.

A lot goes into smart parlay betting. How does it work? When's the best time to do it? Are there any tricks to capitalizing on it? For a complete breakdown of all different wager types, check out our all-encompassing betting guide. Around these parts, though, we're all about explaining and maximizing the parlay gambling process.

How Parlay Bets Work

Parlay bets entail taking two or more separate wagers and combining them into one transaction. There's not technically a limit to how many different lines you can pile on to one slip, but some sportsbooks will set a maximum on the number you can include.

The intent behind parlay bets is simple: By attaching all these different wagers to one another, you increase your prospective payout when it hits.

Hypothetically, let's say you analyze this week's NFL betting odds and are intrigued by the following moneylines: New England Patriots (-150), Philadelphia Eagles (+200), Denver Broncos (+125), and Los Angeles Rams (-110). You could throw money at each of these odds separately, but you'll be capping your return.

Assuming you could throw $100 at each game, your maximum profit should you successfully predict all of them would be no more than around $585. That's not bad. But if you parlayed this wager, tethering each moneyline to each other, your profit margin would increase to around 20.5-to-1.

So, if you invested the same initial $400, a win would go from netting you just under $600 to landing you nearly $8,200. That's a huuuge difference, and it didn't even run you a higher overhead. If you wanted to, you could even decrease how much you're putting on the line, from $400 to $100, and you'd still have the chance to win more than $2,000. 

Here's the thing to remember, though: Parlay bets demand you go undefeated with your predictions. In our hypothetical, if you were to successfully pick three of the outcomes but miss on one, you'd have built a losing parlay. It's an all-or-nothing proposition.

If this manner of betting interests you, you're in luck. Every sportsbook affords you the opportunity to build parlays. But the experiences at each one are different. That's why we've put together a list of our favorites:

    When Does It Make Sense to Build Parlays?

    Strictly building parlay bets for the potentially glitzy payouts isn't enough motivation. Chasing long-shot odds alone, without real rhyme or reason to your approach, is a recipe for suffering losses.

    Parlays are best served in situations where you're ultra-confident in your picks, so much so that straight single wagers won't cut it for you. They're also worthwhile transactions when you don't feel like unloading the financial clip. You can cobble together a semi-realistic parlay slip with 20-to-1 odds, a lineup that would require only a $5 investment if you're looking to earn a cool $100.

    How many games or betting lines you tie to each wager is ultimately up to you. The more you include, the higher your potential return. But we recommend moneylines more than point spreads or over/under. They're easier to predict; you're dealing strictly in wins and losses rather than point differentials and final scores. 

    Sure, if you fancy yourself a point spread or over/under expert, you're free to disagree. But the hit rate on moneyline-only parlays, assuming you're betting with actual insight, are going to be higher than those that include multiple wager types or are built strictly out of the over/under or point spread. 

    Plus, with the moneyline, you also have the opportunity to capitalize on underdog odds. Those don't exist in the over/under or point spread departments. You're looking -110 rates pretty much across the board. That's stellar if you're prioritizing consistency with your odds, but it doesn't leave much room for payout growth.

    Best Parlay Betting Strategies

    Sports gamblers have infinite access to betting strategies. They are everywhere, and there are tons of them. Not only that, but new approaches are cropping every year, with the statistics to back them up.

    The truth of the matter, however, is that no betting strategy is even remotely close to infallible. Flaws are peppered throughout everyone, in the sense that everything will always ultimately come back to whether you know the sport you're betting on and have made the right pick.

    Still, parlay betting strategies are worth exploring. You might stumble upon something you like or just find out the approach works for the disposable income you're working with. Let's tackle some of the most popular parlay betting strategies, shall we?

    Long-Shot Parlay Betting

    While some people like to build extensive parlay bets, others don't like risking money on so many different outcomes. They like to limit the number of wagers they're tying to each transaction.

    If that's the case, and you're also on a stringent betting budget, it's not a bad idea to poke around the long-shot moneylines. Should you find even just two that you like, you can combine them for what will be a pleasantly surprising return.

    Parlay Betting Vector

    Take the following two imaginary lines: Kansas City Chiefs (+275) and Arizona Cardinals (+550). Let's just assume you believe both teams, despite being heavy underdogs, are going to win. You could roll with them individually, investing $100 in each line that would leave you with a maximum profit margin of $825. That's not a bad return on a $200 overhead.

    But if you attach both underdogs to one another, woo buddy, you're cooking with fish grease. In this case, a $100 investment for this two-team parlay could net you a total payout of $2,437.50, which would give you a profit margin of $2,337.50. Again: You're dealing with what has been deemed two extremely unlikely outcomes. But if you buy into these lines, you can technically lessen your overhead, so you won't feel a loss as much while inflating your return a great deal.

    Heavy-Favorite Parlay Betting

    Flip the script from the previous parlay strategy, and you get this one.

    Heavy-favorite parlays mandate that you seek out as many "sure things" as you can reasonably find. These lines, of course, aren't actually sure things. They're merely moneyline odds your absurdly confident in or betting lines that are so thoroughly tilted in one direction, the implied risk is minimal.

    Pretend you're surfing the latest NBA betting odds and come across the following favorites:

    • Los Angeles Lakers (-750)
    • Los Angeles Clippers (-800)
    • Brooklyn Nets (-650)
    • Miami Heat (-500)
    • Boston Celtics (-575)

    Investing in each moneyline individually doesn't make much sense here, not unless you have an unlimited budget with which to bet. If you're going the single-wager route, you should be zeroing in on spreads or the over/under.

    However, if you're open to parlaying all five favorites, the transaction is suddenly worth more of your time. Consider the difference in this scenario: If you wanted to win $100 off each of the above teams, you'd need to bet a total of $3,275. Is that much money really worth a $500 profit? For most people, obviously not. 

    Meanwhile, if you parlay these games with just a $100 overhead, you'll have a chance to more than double your money. Turning $100 into $207-and-change might not seem so great when you're padding together so many different outcomes, but remember, you're not wagering on coin-toss situations. Each team in this scenario has been deemed a serious favorite. Unless there are injuries you don't know about, you have an above-average chance of hitting this five-layer parlay.

    Avoiding Extensive Parlays in Certain Sports

    This method runs semi-counter to the strategy we just discussed. While you are free to seek out heavy-favorite odds in every league and parlay a bunch of them, not everyone endorses it. Count us among them. Kind of. We're not saying you shouldn't do it, but it should definitely be done with extreme caution in certain leagues.

    Upsets are more common in the NFL. If you're looking at five different games, with a favorite laying -500 or better in all of them, that might suggest you're staring at a conceptual sure thing. 

    Chances are good, though, that at least one underdog will pull off an upset, the reason is because one play in every NFL game can be rendered incredibly impactful. This isn't a team in basketball hitting a two-pointer or even three-pointers. Touchdowns in the NFL can be worth anywhere between six and eight points. One score can change everything long before the buzzer sounds. That's why football has the "Any Given Sunday" mantra.

    Similar logic should be used when considering parlays for NHL betting odds. Goals are only worth one point, but they're so hard to get that even a single score can dictate the outcome of an entire game. Ditto for soccer. You can hold the same stand when looking at MLB betting odds and college football betting odds, but for us personally, we're not as worried about either. Heavy favorites are both more predictable in these leagues.