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Parlay Betting Explained

Are you a fan of parlay betting? Have you heard about it but don’t quite know what it means? Find out everything you need to know in our parlay betting guide. 

What Is a Parlay?

A parlay bet is a type of bet that’s popular among both novice and experienced bettors alike. It essentially revolves around betting on multiple selections in the same or different events together to earn larger profits. Depending on which part of the world you’re in, you may find parlays titled as “multi” or “accumulator” bets.

Many people prefer parlays to single-game betting due to the potential for huge wins, as the individual odds you pick are multiplied to create the parlay odds. However, in order to win, all the teams you’ve selected need to win their respective matches. If just one pick in your parlay loses, your entire bet is a loser and you forfeit your entire stake. 

There’s also an important distinction between the standard parlay definition and the “same-game” parlay, as this type of bet refers to multiple betting markets within the same event. The standard parlay allows only one betting market in each game.

For a comprehensive list of betting terms including Parlay, refer to our Sports Betting Glossary.

When Did the Term “Parlay” Originate?

The parlay bet became popular during the mid-19th century as a way to describe a bet on multiple events to a sportsbook. Before the term “parlay”, bettors initially put a standard wager on a team to win a match, and if they won, they’d bet all the earnings on another team to win its respective game. This was how sports bettors could earn an outsized return on their money. 

Stories about people winning hundreds of thousands of dollars by simply betting a few dollars on a multi-leg parlay are what draw bettors to parlays. Before you start betting on large parlays, though, you should understand how a betting parlay works and how risky it can be.

How Does a Parlay Work?

In essence, a parlay bet is a wager on a chain of events that all need to happen for it to win. Your stake is wagered on the first team you’ve picked to win; if it wins, your total payout is then wagered on the next team you’ve chosen to win. Canadian Sportsbooks offer lots of different Parlay options. Use our comprehensive reviews to find your ideal book!

Of course, this comes at a much higher risk because if one of the outcomes doesn’t happen, you lose your whole bet. This is why parlay bets are know to be one of the riskiest types of bets. They have a large potential payout but there is a reason for that and it’s because they’re very difficult to win. 

Two-Leg Parlay Example

Let’s assume you want to bet on the Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks to win their respective games, with both teams being the favorite at -110 odds. If you bet $100 on each outcome separately, and both teams win, you’ll make a total profit of about $180. 

However, if you create a two-leg parlay, the odds for the two teams to win will be multiplied for much higher total odds. If you bet $100 on this parlay and it wins, you’ll earn a $260 profit. Essentially, you wager half the money you would in single bets and make a greater total profit. However, one loss in the second example results in you losing all your money. 

How Do You Win at Parlays?

While big parlays can make you a massive amount of money with a small wager, they have a strict winning condition; all the individual selections you pick must win for your entire parlay to win. 

If even one of the individual bets loses, the parlay collapses, and you lose. That’s basically the largest downside of utilizing parlay bets, as they entail a very high risk for a high reward. 

While there isn’t a universal strategy for winning in parlays, there are good and bad parlays. For instance, if you wager on a 10-leg parlay of outsiders, don’t expect to have a high chance of winning. Still, there are some general tips you can follow to minimize the risk or parlay bets.

Parlay Betting Tips

One way to approach parlay betting is as a complementary bet to your single bets. For instance, if you want to bet on three teams to win, you can wager $100 on each team in a single bet and then wager a smaller amount on a three-leg parlay of them. 

This way, if all three teams win their respective matches, you’ll still make a large profit from the single bets and the parlay. But, if one team loses, you won’t lose your entire stake and will still make a small profit.

You can also create a multi-leg parlay with a bunch of strong favorites with very high chances of winning. That way, you can make a considerable profit while minimizing your risk. 

How Do You Calculate Parlay Payouts?

Parlays are all about making big profits with small bets. So, how can you calculate your parlay payouts?

The quick and easy way to calculate your total parlay payouts or profits is using an odds payout calculator.  With odds payout calculators, you don’t need to worry about the maths behind parlay payouts. You can find your profit or total payouts for both single bets and parlay bets. 

All you need to do is select the parlay bet option on your preferred odds calculator and input all the individual parlay games with their respective odds. Then, you need to fill in your stake, and you’ll find out how much money you win. You can even compare your profits from single bets to your parlay profits.

If you’re betting with an online sportsbook, the platform will automatically calculate the potential payout for you. You will be able to see how much you stand to win before placing your parlay bet. 

How to Manually Calculate Parlay Bet Payout?

If you don’t mind doing a bit of math, you can manually calculate your parlay betting payout through a simple process.

To begin with, you’ll need to convert your odds to decimal format. If you’re using American moneyline odds of -110, divide 100 by 110 and add 1 to the result. You can also find several odds conversion tools online.

After you have your decimal odds, multiply all the odds together, and you’ll get your total parlay odds. Afterward, multiply your parlay odds by the amount of money wagered to get your parlay payouts. If you subtract your original wager from the result, you get your parlay profits.

While your sportsbook may not quite use this formula, it’s a good rule of thumb to get an estimate that is likely pretty accurate. 

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How Many Games Should You Parlay?

Many people like parlay bets because they can add many games and get a chance to win big with a small wager. Most online sportsbooks will allow you to place huge parlays with up to 25 games or more. 

However, the more games you parlay, the higher the chance of one of them not going your way and ruining your entire bet. Also, parlay betting is generally not advised by veteran bettors, as it doesn’t provide enough value if you bet regularly. Still, there are some ways to make parlay games profitable.

Parlay Bet Strategies

Some people also prefer to place long parlays of multiple strong favourites. This is a decent strategy if you are confident that the teams will win their respective games, but their odds aren’t good enough to make a significant profit by themselves. 

Either way, you should always remember that betting odds are simply probabilities of events occurring; the more matches you add, the higher the risk of one of them going sideways and ruining your parlay.

In addition, remember that each betting line has a house edge baked into it. When you create a parlay bet, not only are you multiplying the odds of your selections together, but you’re also multiplying that house edge. This means that you’re making it more difficult to win. 

Is It Better to Parlay or Single Bet?

This is a question that always comes up both among novice and more experienced bettors. The general consensus is that it’s better to go for single bets and avoid parlay betting. But, both bet types have their advantages and disadvantages and there is a time and place for parlay bets. For more help in determining your best bet, refer to our Odds Calculator page.

Pros & Cons Of Parlay

One of the biggest advantages of parlay bets is the feeling of excitement they provide and the small chance at a huge payout. The thrill that you have a chance to win a life-changing amount of money is irresistible for many bettors, and it’s the same thrill that’s behind lotteries and casino games.

Some sportsbooks will also offer bonuses and promotions for parlay bets. These can include boosted parlay odds or part of your stake back as a free bet if your parlay loses.

Naturally, the largest disadvantage of parlay bets is the overall risk they bear, as well as not being a profitable long-term strategy. 

Also, sportsbooks know that most bettors are drawn in by big parlays with the potential for huge wins. That’s why some of them will take a larger cut (also known as “juice” or “vig”) from your payout.

Longshot parlay bets can be seen as a type of lottery ticket in a way. You’re paying a small amount for a small chance at a massive payout. 

Pros & Cons Of Single Bet

Generally, single betting is the preferred betting type by most veteran bettors, as it’s considered the safest and most consistent way to make a profit. While some of your single bets may lose, if you set a long-term vision throughout a season and study each game thoroughly, you have the best chance at making a good profit.

Another benefit of single bets is the much lower risk associated with them. Some people prefer the lower volatility and complexity found in single bets. These people just want to wager their money on one team to win the game and enjoy their profits with a lower chance of failure.

The downsides of single betting include decreased excitement for some bettors. This results from not being able to win a lot by betting small amounts. However, you can still make considerable profits with single bets if you bet large amounts, use a standard bet size, and study each match before you bet on it.

When Should You Cash Out a Parlay?

Most sportsbooks will allow you to cash out a parlay bet once you’ve placed a parlay bet, up until the first game starts. Some will give you a cash-out option before the start and after the end of each match. Many sportsbooks these days are even allowing sports bettors to cash out their money during a match. 

If you’re happy with the money you’ve made so far, or you’re afraid of an upcoming match ruining your bet, you can use the cash-out option. That way, you’ll still make a small profit without any additional risks.

Think about it like this: would you bet the whole amount of money from your cash out on the remaining games of your parlay? If you’re that confident, then you don’t need to cash out. If you aren’t feeling so sure, just cash out and walk away with your profits.

Parlay Live Cash Out 

Some sportsbooks that offer live betting will also provide a live cash-out option. In general, the same rules apply, and you should cash out your parlays when you feel the risk is too much for the potential reward. The benefit of a live cash-out option is that you can wait and see how that final game progresses and consider your options throughout its duration.

Looking for answers for your other betting questions? Check out our other great betting guides here!

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Parlay Betting FAQ

Is it better to parlay or single bet?

Most experienced bettors will tell you to avoid parlay betting and focus on single betting, as it’s more consistent and profitable in the long term. However, you can occasionally place some parlay bets for fun; just don’t expect to win too many of them.

Are parlays a good bet?

Like any other bet type, there are good and bad parlays. If you add a bunch of random games and create a 10-leg parlay, the chances of winning are not in your favour. Instead, parlays can be good bets if you use specific strategies.

How do you win at parlays?

When you place a parlay bet with three teams winning their respective matches, you combine their individual odds into one. This means that if the first team wins, your entire payout will be wagered on the second team automatically, and so forth. 

Therefore, all individual bets within the parlay must win to win at parlays. If even one of them loses, the whole parlay loses.

How many legs in a parlay is too many?

Parlays are bets that include two or more games (also known as legs) and can reach an almost infinite number of them. While most people usually place parlay bets with only a few games, sometimes you can find huge parlays with up to 20 games or more. 

Generally, the more legs in a parlay, the harder it becomes to win and the less value you get. Your best and most profitable options are 3-leg or 5-leg parlays. Anything more than 5 legs is generally considered too many.

How many units should you bet on parlays?

Most veteran bettors will utilize a standard unit size for all their single bets. This unit is a small percentage of their total bankroll (usually 1-2%) and allows for more consistent profits throughout the season. 

The units you choose to bet on parlays can depend on how many legs it has and its total odds. However, you should ideally treat parlays as a complementary or a fun bet and use half or even fewer units than you would in single betting.

How do you calculate parlay payouts?

There are countless odds payout calculators online that you can use to calculate your profits and total payouts for both single bets and parlay bets. If you want to do the math calculations for parlay payouts by yourself, you’ll need to convert your odds to decimal format.

After you have all your decimal odds, you need to multiply them to get the total odds for your parlay bet. Then, multiply the amount you’ll wager with the odds to get your total payouts. If you subtract your original wager, you get your parlay profits.

How much does a $100 3 team parlay pay?

Your parlay payouts are determined based on the odds of each game. There are payout tables for parlays with up to 10 legs, but they assume that all your odds are -110. If you place a 3-team parlay with each game at -110 odds, your total odds will be 6 to 1, and you can expect to make around a $600 profit.

What is the biggest parlay ever won?

Everyone’s heard stories about huge parlays making tons of money with small wagers. One of the most profitable parlays ever was a 15-leg parlay of all games in one NFL week. The lucky bettor who placed this parlay won $100,000 with just a $5 wager.

Another massive parlay win included 25 legs of college basketball and the NBA. Although less profitable than the previous one, it still made over $200,000 with a $25 stake.

Should you hedge a parlay?

Hedging is a common strategy that many bettors utilize to guarantee some profit. If you’ve bet on a team to win and they are significantly ahead in their game, you can hedge a small amount on the opposing team to win, guaranteeing you a profit. 

Similarly, if it’s the final game of a big parlay and you have won all previous bets, you should definitely place a small bet on the opposing team. You’ll also lose a small amount of money, but you’ll guarantee the majority of the parlay profits.

Can you do parlay bets in Canada?

Sports betting in Canada has been legalized since 1985, although people could only place parlay bets through their provincial lotteries. Nowadays, bettors in all Canadian provinces and territories can place parlay and single bets in their lotteries or use online offshore sportsbooks.

In Ontario, online sports betting has been fully legalized and regulated, and bettors can freely place their parlay bets on licensed online sportsbooks.

What happens if you push in a parlay?

Pushes in sports betting can happen relatively frequently, especially if you bet on spreads or totals. A push is when the score lands exactly on the total or spread. In that case, your bet is treated as a void, and your stake is returned to you. A push can also happen if you’ve bet on a player prop and the player doesn’t play.

When it comes to parlays, a push on one of the legs essentially removes it from the parlay. So, if you place a 3-leg parlay and one leg pushes, its odds are removed from the equation, and you get a 2-leg parlay with the remaining games.