What Is Parlay Betting?

Betting on a single outcome is the likely path to long-term success in sports betting. Unfortunately, sometimes the safe route is a bit of a snooze. There is a betting option that, albeit riskier, can tap that edge-of-seat excitement you may desire.

Parlay betting revolves around choosing multiple options to one single betting slip.

The more choices on a parlay, there is more of a potential return on your wager. On the downside, parlays are tough to win. For the wager to pay off, every leg of the parlay must be accurate.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward wager. To drive that point home, consider that many of the total holds at online and mobile sportsbooks come from parlay wagers.

There are pros and cons to parlay betting, and we’re going to walk through all of them. We hope you gain a full understanding of how parlay betting works.

What is a parlay bet?

If you guess multiple outcomes on the same betting slip, you’re placing a parlay wager. A parlay could be as few as two picks — such as a pair moneyline bets — or as many as 10 or more choices.

For each selection you add to your slip, the potential return on the parlay rises. However, the difficulty of hitting the parlay increases right along with it. We’ll break down some ballpark ranges based on the number of selections shortly.

The appeal of parlays is there is a chance for a great return for a small wagering amount. They’re quite popular among recreational bettors and some seasoned handicappers will use parlays as part of their betting strategy.

What is a same game parlay?

A same-game parlay is a relatively new concept that has been rising in popularity. While many operators were already allowing a side and totals pick on the same game on one slip, the range of choices has been expanding in a number of spots.

In addition to sides and totals, you can now add various props to the ticket. For a quick example, here’s a basic combination on a Chicago Bears game:

Chicago Bears to win, under on points, David Montgomery to score the first TD in the game.

Just like a standard parlay, the more choices you add, the greater the potential return. However, the risk also rises with every selection you add. For a single-game parlay to be graded a winner, you must be correct on all of your selections.

How to place a parlay bet

Online and mobile betting platforms from the leading operators are typically easy to use. Whether you’re in front of your computer or on your phone, you can build out a parlay ticket.

First things first, you have to decide what you want to include. For example, let’s say that you’re going through the MLB slate on BetRivers in Illinois. You decide that you feel good about the following three moneyline choices:

Chicago Cubs over Milwaukee Brewers -120
Houston Astros over Texas Rangers -160
New York Mets over Washington Nationals+125

To place the parlay bet, you’ll have to go through each of the individual game listings and click on the selection you want. As you click, the outcomes will go into the betting slip. Once you have everything on the ticket, you’ll plug in your betting amount.

The operator will display the potential return for a winning parlay right there. If you’re happy with how it looks, then you click the “submit” button, but you can also adjust the slip by adding or removing items.

Parlay betting odds explained

The total odds for a parlay bet will depend on the lines for the selections you have chosen. As such, there’s no exact range that says a two-team parlay will payout at odds of this or that a four-team parlay will have odds at this amount.

Thankfully, there are some workarounds you can use to quickly determine the total parlay odds. First, you can simply add selections to the betting slip. The sportsbook will tally things up and give you a line for the parlay as a whole.

You can then delete or add items to the slip as needed to view what the odds would look like with different selections. As a note of caution, be careful you don’t accidentally put through any wagers before you are ready.

Beyond that, there are several online gambling calculators on the internet. Many of them feature a parlay calculator function, so you can plug in the odds and see the possibilities.

Remember, the odds will depend on the lines for your selections. That being the case, you want to make sure you’re getting the best possible price on those outcomes.

To do so, you can engage in some line shopping, which simply means that you are checking the odds at multiple books to find the most attractive ones. Tools such as our live odds feed can work wonders on this front as we provide real-time numbers from several top operators.

For example, DraftKings or FanDuel in Illinois could be in one spot on a game, while PointsBet is offering up a better price. By shopping around, you’ll be able to zero in on the best numbers and build out your parlay bets accordingly.

Online parlay betting rules in Illinois

A parlay bet is a standard wager type available at legal Illinois sportsbooks. The general rules for placement and settlement are similar across the industry, but there can be some differences.

Here are some of the main points to keep in mind about parlays:

  • You must have a minimum of two bets on the same slip to make a parlay.
  • Operators will generally cap the number of selections, but it can vary based on the house rules. One book may cap it at 10 choices on one ticket, yet another may use 12 and so on.
  • For team-based parlays, games or outcomes that are settled as a “push” will be considered a tie for the parlay. The parlay will then be graded based on the outcome of the rest of the selections on your slip, and the odds will be adjusted accordingly.
  • For parlays involving player props, the selection is considered live-action as long as the player is suited up for the game.

Once again, we have to stress that there may be different rules parlays at the various online and mobile sportsbooks. It’s a good idea to review the sportsbook’s house rules to avoid unnecessary confusion or disappointment.

Parlay sports betting examples

NFL parlay betting example

The NFL is a popular sport for parlay bettors. There are single-game opportunities with the primetime affairs, as well as plenty of potential combos on the main Sunday slate.

After some research, you may consider the following point spread bets:

Carolina Panthers +7.5 vs. New Orleans Saints
Pittsburgh Steelers +1.5 vs. Tennessee Titans
Denver Broncos +9.5 vs. Kansas City Chiefs

In addition to playing all three games with single wagers, you decide to tie them all together on a parlay ticket in hopes of a greater return.

The odds for this fictional parlay will depend on the NFL game line, so it’ll vary. For a ballpark, let’s say all three choices are at the default of -110. After you add all three choices to the slip, the book displays total parlay odds of +596.

If you were to wager $20 at those odds, the potential amount coming back to you is $119.16 — the stake of your bet, plus a profit of $99.16. When you see attractive returns such as that, it’s not too tough to see why parlay bets are so appealing.

NBA parlay betting example

NBA slates are also a popular spot for parlay bettors to attempt to pounce. There are days in which there are a large number of games, as well as nights with just a handful. No matter what’s on tap, there will be plenty of  bettors taking their chances with a parlay.

For one NBA game night, you may circle the following spreads as good places to focus. Here’s a fictional example:

Chicago Bulls -2.5 vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Miami Heat -4.5 vs. New York Knicks
Denver Nuggets +3.5 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
New Orleans Pelicans +5.5 vs. Houston Rockets

You like two favorites and two dogs to cover and place your single bets accordingly. Additionally, you tie together all four of your NBA wagers on a single ticket in hopes of a bigger score.

If all four games are set at -110 at the time of bet placement, that would translate into parlay odds of +1228. For a $10 bet, you could win $122.84 if everything breaks your way.

MLB parlay betting example

During the heart of the MLB season, the daily slates can be packed, while things slow down during the postseason. When playing a big slate of games, an example would be the following five contests on the moneyline:

Chicago Cubs -136 vs. Philadelphia Phillies
New York Yankees -180 vs. Seattle Mariners
Pittsburgh Pirates +105 vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
Texas Rangers -110 vs. Los Angeles Angels
Boston Red Sox +105 vs. Cleveland Indians

Beyond placing single-game wagers, you decide that this is a good spot to take a shot with a parlay. Once you add all of the wagers to the slip, the book gives you total parlay odds of +2,602. For a $25 winning wager, the return would be a profit of $650.59.

NHL parlay betting example

Slates of NHL games can be similar to what you’ll find in the NBA. There will be days that are really busy with 10 or more games, while others may only have five or fewer. Parlays will be welcomed by the sportsbook, regardless of how many games are on tap.

For one busy night, you decide to go for the gusto with a six-team parlay. Here’s a fictional example that includes the Chicago Blackhawks:

Chicago Blackhawks -125 vs. Minnesota Wild
Dallas Stars -180 vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Islanders -110 vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Los Angeles Kings +155 vs. Vancouver Canucks
Toronto Maple Leafs -261 vs. Florida Panthers
New York Rangers +150 vs. Boston Bruins

Be sure to take your time when adding all six outcomes to the slip and then double-check to make sure everything looks accurate. In this example, the sportsbook provides you with odds of +4,618 for the full six-team parlay. If you bet $5 and all six games hit, you could win $230.92.

Parlays for other sports

Beyond the examples we have outlined, you can make parlay bets with basically all sports on the wagering menu, including:

You could even make a parlay for individual sports. Here are some examples of how it might apply.

  • Golf: Parlay on head-to-head matchups.
  • Tennis: Parlay on head-to-head matchups.
  • UFC: Parlay on all fights on the card.

Also, remember that several operators allow building out parlays with player props. In short, there are plenty of parlay opportunities for you to consider.

Calculating parlay odds and potential returns

The total odds for a parlay will be based on the selections you add to the slip. Naturally, it means the returns will vary, depending on the numbers.

For a glance at how the odds and potential returns can grow, let’s consider the numbers for a few parlays in which all selections are set at -110:

  • Two Teams: Odds – +264. $10 bet potential profit – $16.45
  • Three Teams: Odds – +596. $10 bet potential profit – $49.58
  • Four Teams: Odds – +1228. $10 bet potential profit – $112.83
  • Five Teams: Odds – +2436. $10 bet potential profit – $233.59
  • Six Teams: Odds – +4741. $10 bet potential profit – $464.13

And so on.

As you can see, the returns rise exponentially with each selection added to the slip, but there are two points to remember. First, all selections need to be correct for a winning bet. If you miss on just one of your selections, the bet is a loser.

Next, keep in mind that books will cap the total number of selections you can add to the ticket for parlays. The number will vary, so check the house rules at the book you are playing on for specific details.

What are the chances of winning a sports betting parlay?

If we add all of our selections to the slip and are ready to go, the sportsbook will have the odds all figured out for us. That tells us what they’re willing to pay if everything breaks right on our end, but what are the chances of that happening?

For a general guide, here are the actual odds of a parlay hitting based on all selections being set with odds of -110:

  • Two Outcomes: 13-5
  • Three Outcomes: 6-1
  • Four Outcomes: 10-1
  • Five Outcomes: 25-1
  • Six Outcomes: 40-1
  • Seven Outcomes: 75-1
  • Eight Outcomes: 150-1
  • Nine Outcomes: 300-1
  • 10 Outcomes: 600-1

That helps to further palace in perspective why sportsbooks offer up such generous potential returns on parlays. They know that the chances of everything breaking right on every outcome you choose are slim with the more selections you add.

We don’t point this out to discourage you from taking your chances with parlays, but rather to demonstrate the odds are stacked against you. There’s nothing wrong with taking some shots with parlays as part of a well-defined handicapping strategy, but be sure to be realistic with your expectations.

Parlay betting tips for beginners

Normal handicapping rules apply when you are building out a parlay ticket. For all the selections you add to the slip, research should be your guide. The choices you make should be made with confidence.

Here are some other general tips to keep in mind for parlay betting:

  • Stay Disciplined: When you see the potential returns attached to parlay wagers, it’s perfectly natural to dream of the possibilities. However, be careful not to get too caught up in the stargazing. Parlays are challenging to hit, so you don’t want to place yourself in a post where you’re constantly chasing the big score while draining your bankroll.
  • Manage Bankroll: On the bankroll front, parlays can be quite the drain if you don’t manage funds properly. No matter how great of a system you think you many have, there may be long stretches in between winning parlay tickets. The amount you use to play for parlays should be able to be covered elsewhere in your overall handicapping approach.
  • Be Realistic: It’s easy to get excited over the possible parlay returns and think that it’s just a matter of time before everything breaks your way. There’s nothing wrong with taking some moonshots, you also have to remain grounded. The chances of a 10-teamer coming in are slim, but you may have a more realistic shot with a smaller parlay.

For a quick example of an overall parlay strategy, you could set aside a portion of your bankroll to take some shots here. You can then dedicate the remainder of your funds for wagers in which you can more realistically build up some consistency, such as on single-game wagers.

What to remember about parlay betting

Parlays are one of the most popular items on the menu at legal and regulated sportsbooks. They’re appealing to bettors because they offer a change at outstanding returns for a small outlay.

However, cashing a large parlay ticket isn’t the easiest and the chances of everything going right become more difficult with each selection you add to the slip. There’s a place for parlays in an overall handicapping strategy; however, don’t get too carried away while reaching for the stars.

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