Your Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Parlay Betting
In this guide, we’re going to talk about parlay betting. The aim is for you to understand everything about this rewarding but risky method of wagering.
We’ll talk about different kinds of bets, including correlated parlays, Same Game Parlay and teasers. You’ll also discover how to calculate your returns when parlay betting, among other things. Finally, we’ll walk you through the steps of signing up at some of the best parlay betting sites in the USA.
All set? Then let’s begin!
Contents – Your Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Parlay Betting
Our guide to parlay betting will go into a lot of detail about many different subjects. You may wish to focus on specific topics, in which case you can use the links below to navigate.
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- What Is a Parlay Bet?
- Best Parlay Betting Sites in the USA
- How Does Parlay Betting Work?
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Parlay Betting
- What Are the Chances of Landing a Parlay Bet?
- Parlay Betting Terminology
- Correlated Parlay Betting
- Parlays vs Teasers
- Parlay Betting Bonuses
- What Happens to a Parlay if a Game Is Canceled?
- How To Start Parlay Betting
What Is a Parlay Bet?
A parlay is any kind of wager that takes multiple plays and combines them into one bet. If you fancy three NFL teams to win their games, you could of course make three individual bets on each. However, you could also combine the picks into one parlay bet, to increase your potential returns.
Parlay betting offers greater payouts since the bet is now harder to win. If any of the three teams loses, the whole bet becomes a busted flush. It’s up to you whether or not you are comfortable taking on the additional risk for the potential extra rewards.
Best Parlay Betting Sites in the USA
Before we get too involved in the details, let’s quickly check out the top sites for parlay betting in the USA.
The following online sportsbooks have all been analyzed by our industry experts. They offer competitive odds across hundreds of different lines. You’ll also find secure deposit and withdrawal methods, first-class customer support and plenty of rewarding bonuses.
How Does Parlay Betting Work?
The basic premise of parlay betting is to join multiple bets together, increasing both the risk and the potential gains. So how exactly are parlay returns calculated? Let’s take a look at a simple illustration.
Imagine these two moneylines:
- BOS Red Sox (+100) @ NY Yankees (-120)
- GB Packers (+120) @ SF 49ers (-140)
In this example, we’ll combine the Packers and Red Sox into a 2-leg parlay, or a double. Our stake will be $10.
If Boston manages to beat the Yankees, our $10 at +100 obviously returns $20. That’s a $10 profit alongside our initial $10 wager. But because this is a double, both legs of the bet need to win. So we do not really see that $20, it’s purely theoretical. The $20 rolls straight onto the Packers match.
If the 49ers win the game, our parlay is dead and we lose our $10 stake. But should Green Bay triumph, $20 at +120 returns $44. That’s a $24 profit with the $20 from the first leg of the parlay.
The more legs you add to a parlay, the more complicated the math becomes. Luckily, there are plenty of parlay calculator tools on the internet, most of which are free to use. Alternatively, you can ask the staff to help you with the calculations if you’re betting in a bricks-and-mortar sportsbook.
Parlay Betting Odds Formats
Of course, sports betting is not unique to the United States of America. As such, different parts of the globe have evolved their own different approaches to bookmaking.
That’s why if you look at a European betting site, for instance, you’ll see the odds laid out as decimals. In the UK, the tradition is toward fractional odds. While in parts of Asia, they use a hybrid of the decimal and US odds system.
The best online parlay betting sites allow you to configure the layout to suit your personal preferences. We recommend that you look into switching over to decimal odds, as it makes calculating a parlay much easier.
Parlays and Decimal Odds
Let’s look at another example. Imagine the following 4-leg parlay:
- TEX Rangers @ +160
- ATL Falcons @ +100
- IND Pacers @ +140
- WAS Mystics @ -300
Good luck trying to work out the exact returns here without using a calculator! But if you convert each of the US odds to decimals, the math becomes much easier.
- TEX Rangers @ 2.60
- ATL Falcons @ 2.00
- IND Pacers @ 2.40
- WAS Mystics @ 1.33
All we need to do is multiply each decimal odds value together, followed by the stake:
2.60 * 2.00 * 2.40 * 1.33 * $10 = $165.98
To learn how to convert American odds into decimals, be sure to check out our guide to understanding betting odds.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Parlay Betting
Parlay betting offers big rewards, but it has a few downsides too. The main attraction of such bets is the fact that you can win much greater sums. When all of the selections win, the odds are multiplied together. This makes for a bigger return than if you’d bet on each pick separately.
However, the big disadvantage in doing so is that the sportsbook’s built in profit margin is also being multiplied. If you understand the mathematics of bookmaking, you’ll know that every market is “over round” by a few percentage points. In other words, the potential returns on a bet do not reflect the true probability of the event taking place.
- By combining bets you can increase the overall odd and unlock higher rewards.
- The sportsbooks edge is multiplied, which lowers your chances.
Here’s an example of how the house edge works. Imagine a theoretical tennis match where both players have identical physical, skill and experience levels. We can agree that there is an exactly 50-50 chance that either player will win the game.
By adding the chances of both players winning together (50% and 50%) we get exactly 100%. But no bookmaker would ever make a 100% book as they cannot make any money. They would only ever break even.
That’s why US bookmakers price up games that are too close to call at -110 either side. Let’s break down the math of those odds by converting them back to their implied probabilities using this formula:
Odds / (100 + Odds) * 100 = probability
110 / (100 + 110) * 100 = 52.38%
So if both teams have a 52.38% chance of winning, that adds up to 104.76%. This means the sportsbook has built a 4.76% edge into this particular line. So in theory, for every $104.76 the bookmaker takes in bets, they’ll return $100 and keep $4.76.
Parlays Multiply the Edge
By multiplying the in-built house edge percentage, it grows ever larger. The more picks you add to the parlay, the more you multiply the edge. So even if you do win your bet, you’ll be paid at nothing like the true odds. And that is a long-term losing strategy.
What’s more, this problem is sometimes exacerbated by maximum payout limits. Often, people don’t stop to calculate the potential return on a parlay containing many selections. It’s entirely plausible that the possible payout exceeds the upper limit written into the bookmaker’s rules. If that happens, you’ll only receive the maximum payout, rather than the full amount.
Parlays vs Single Bets
It could be argued that a better strategy is to bet singles rather than parlays. Let’s look at some simple math to illustrate the point. Imagine placing these two bets:
$110 @ -110 = $100 profit
$110 @ -110 = $100 profit
Here, you are staking $220 to make $200 in profits ($420 returns). But if one of them loses, you’ll still end up with a return of $210, meaning an overall loss of just $10.
Now let’s imagine you parlayed these two bets instead, betting the full $220 on a double. The potential profit is now $581.81, which is almost three times as great. But if one of those teams loses, your total returns are $0, for a $220 loss. Big difference!
Whether or not parlay betting is for you is entirely down to your own tolerance for risk. The debate within the sports betting community rages on.
What Are the Chances of Landing a Parlay Bet?
Naturally, the chances of winning a parlay bet depend on the odds and probabilities of each individual pick. For instance, if you flipped a coin twice, it’s reasonably likely that you might end up with two heads in a row. But if you bet on two horses, one of which was a huge outsider, your chances of success are much lower.
We can calculate the actual chances of each parlay quite easily. First, you’ll need to find the implied probability of each play. For more information on how to do this, you can read our guide to understanding betting odds.
Once you know the probabilities of each individual event taking place, simply multiply them together. To express the probability as a percentage, multiply this value by 100.
Doing the Math on Parlays
To better explain what we mean, let’s stick to the coin flip example. What are the chances of flipping two heads in a row? We know already that the probability of making one head is 0.5, as it’s a 50-50 shot. So it’s a simple calculation:
0.5 * 0.5 * 100 = 25%
To further the demonstration, let’s take a couple of unfancied horses. Let’s say their odds are +1200 and +2500. The implied probability of each horse winning its respective race is therefore 0.0769 and 0.0385. So the calculation is:
0.0769 * 0.0385 * 100 = 0.296%
That’s right, those two horses will both win their races less than one-third of a percent of the time! As you can see, the individual plays impact greatly upon the chances of landing your parlay.
Parlay Betting Terminology
In the USA, a parlay is usually referred to by the number of legs. For instance, if you pick out five teams and parlay them up, this is known as a 5-leg parlay. In other parts of the world though, parlays are called “accumulator” or “multiple” bets. And a five team accumulator is dubbed a “fivefold”.
Parlays containing just two picks, the minimum number of selections, are sometimes referred to as “doubles”. While a 3-leg parlay might be termed a “treble”. Anything with four or more selections outside of the US adopt the -fold suffix. So a 10-leg parlay is known as a “tenfold” accumulator.
Round Robin Parlays
In addition to standard parlays which contain just one bet, it’s also possible to place round robins. These contain many different permutations of parlay and are really several bets placed all at once.
For instance, let’s say that you pick four teams and want to cover all of the possible bet types. There are 15 in all, broken down as follows:
- 4x single bets (one per team);
- 6x doubles (AB, AC, AD, BC, BD & CD);
- 4x trebles (ABC, ABD, ACD, BCD);
- 1x fourfold.
It’s possible to cover all 15 of these bets at once, or any combination of them. In the UK, this full cover bet is known as a Lucky 15. Betting only on the parlays and omitting the singles is called a Yankee.
A key parlay is a kind of round robin that doesn’t cover every permutation, only those involving a special selection. For instance, let’s say you made three selections and chose Team A as the key. You would then have a 3-leg parlay (ABC) plus the doubles AB and AC. However, you would not have the double involving Teams B and C.
Outside of the US, you will often hear a key referred to as a “banker” selection.
Correlated Parlay Betting
A correlated parlay involves two picks which impact upon each other, making the bet more favorable for you. A good example is in soccer, where goals are hard to come by.
Let’s say that you believe LA Galaxy will win their match and Javier Hernández will score the first goal. Understandably, you may wish to parlay to two outcomes. But you won’t be allowed to, since if Hernández scores, the chances of LA winning the game are massively enhanced.
Giving a soccer team a one goal headstart is a huge advantage and they are almost certain to win the game. But there are many other related contingencies in the sports betting world. Bookmakers are wise to it and they automatically block such bets. Until recently, that is.
Same Game Parlays
A relatively new innovation in the world of sports betting is the Same Game Parlay. Sometimes known as One Game Parlay, Single Game Parlay or simply Parlay+, it offers punters the chance to legally bet on correlated events.
Most of the best parlay betting sites in the country offer some form of SGP betting and it’s customizable to some extent. Building your own correlated parlay depends largely on the betting site and sport in question. But you could have anywhere from four to a dozen different markets to choose from.
For more information on Single Game Parlays, check out our article.
Parlays vs Teasers
With regular parlay betting, you’re at the mercy of the bookmaker. Whatever their line says, you must bet over or under that amount. However, most sportsbooks offer what are known as “teasers”. These allow you to adjust the line by six points, giving you much greater margin for error.
This makes it seem much easier to win, but naturally, the potential returns are diminished as a result. However, you’re still relying on multiple teams to deliver and therefore it remains difficult to land the bet. Hence the name “teaser”!
You cannot tease every parlay. For instance, moving the line by six points on a baseball game would have far too much of an effect. As such, teasers are more commonly seen in basketball and football games. Not all sportsbooks even permit teasers. But where they do, you’ll usually see a special section at the foot of your betslip.
Parlay Betting Bonuses
All of the best parlay betting sites recommended on this page have a lot of redeeming features. But among the many plus points is the number of bonuses and promotions available.
Here are some of the top betting offers to look out for when placing your parlay bets.
This type of promotion is still relatively rare in the United States, though you see it a lot at offshore betting sites. The bookies know that it’s hard to land a parlay, but they would like you to keep trying. As a result, they offer a kind of insurance against near misses.
For instance, imagine you placed an 8-leg parlay and seven of the teams won. That’s incredibly frustrating, to be so close to a big prize, with just one pick letting you down. If the sportsbook offered parlay insurance, you would receive compensation in such an event. More than likely, your stake would be returned as a free bet so that you can have a second shot.
Some parlay betting sites in the USA now offer boost tokens, allowing you to enhance your parlay odds. In the case of BetMGM, for instance, they would issue a 10% token to apply to one parlay of your choice. This is a limited time promotion which they offer from time to time.
At European betting sites, it’s extremely common to add a percentage reward on top of all winning parlays. The more legs you include, the higher the adjustment in your payment. In the case of huge accumulator bets with 12 or more teams, the reward can be as high as 100%!
Deposit Match Bonuses
Most online bookmakers these days offer a signup incentive. And if you do join, it’s often the case that your first real money deposit will be matched with bonus credits. For instance, a 100% deposit match bonus would turn a $50 deposit into a total of $100.
Although the rules are different at every sportsbook, most will allow you to use your deposit bonuses for parlay betting.
Many online sportsbooks in the US hand out free bets to their most loyal customers. This is a token which allows you to place a bet without having your wallet debited. When the bet wins, the profits are yours to keep. But should it lose, it hasn’t cost you a single cent.
You may also receive a risk-free bet, which is similar, but requires a real money bet to be placed first. If this loses, the money will be returned as a free bet token, giving you another try. With most bookies, these free bet rewards can be used for parlay betting. This gives you the potential to win a significant sum of money but with zero risk.
What Happens to a Parlay if a Game Is Canceled?
If you’re looking to get involved with parlay betting, it’s important to check the rules at your chosen betting site. The most common way to solve the problem of canceled games is to simply remove that leg from the parlay. But all sportsbooks handle cancellations differently.
When betting at sites which do remove canceled events, it’s straightforward. Imagine that you placed a 6-leg parlay where five of your picks won, but the other team didn’t play. In the majority of cases, the 6-leg parlay simply becomes a winning 5-leg parlay. Your returns won’t be as big as you thought, as there are now just five picks in play. But it’s better than nothing!
With some bookmakers, the terms and conditions state that the bet will stand as a 6-leg parlay if the game is rearranged within a specific period of time. What should never happen is for the bet to be voided entirely, with your stake being returned. If that happens, you should take it up with your bookmaker.
Naturally, if the parlay contains losing picks, then any canceled games are irrelevant. For a parlay to win, all valid selections have to win. Any losers mean that the entire wager is bust.
How To Start Parlay Betting
If you’ve come this far through our guide to parlay betting, you must be chomping at the bit to get started! But if you’re not feeling entirely confident about how to begin, don’t panic. We’ve got you covered with our simple walkthrough below.
1: Pick a sportsbook
You can’t indulge in a spot of parlay betting if you’re not registered with a bookmaker. Select one of the trusted betting sites named on this page to ensure that you’ll enjoy a safe and secure betting experience.
2: Create an account
Once the homepage has loaded, you’ll need to click on the relevant button to open the registration form. Alternatively, you can download the app if your chosen betting site offers one. Either way, fill out your personal details to create your new account.
3: Bag a bonus
Don’t forget to include any relevant promo codes on the signup form, in order to collect your welcome bonus. Each sportsbook goes about this in a different manner, so read the rules to ensure you don’t miss out.
4: Initiate a deposit
Once the account is set up, you’ll have to add some real money to your wallet. After all, there is no parlay betting without cash! Visit the bookmaker’s cashier page, pick a payment option and load your wallet with funds.
5: Make your picks
Okay, with a fully loaded betting account, it’s time to dive in and build your first parlay. Do your research and peruse your chosen bookmaker’s many betting lines. Click on the odds of each team to add your picks to the betslip.
6: Strike a bet
Once you’re happy with the number of legs added to the slip, simply enter the stake value and choose the bet type. When parlay betting, it’s possible to place several types of wager, including round robin bets and teasers. Confirm the transaction and you’re all done!
Thanks for reading our guide to parlay betting and we hope you’ve had all of your questions answered. From teasers and SGPs, to calculating parlays and understanding the rules, we’ve tried to cover everything possible.
Ready to place your first parlay bet? Head over to our top-rated online sportsbook and get started. Good luck!
Is parlay betting legal in the United States?
Yes. Some parts of the USA now permit sports betting, since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was overturned on May 14, 2018. In those states where sportsbooks are legal, parlay betting is also allowed.
What are the best sites to bet parlays in the USA?
You can see our favorite sportsbooks for parlay betting at the top of this page. They all provide a wide variety of betting lines, with generous odds and plenty of promotions on offer too.
How do you place a parlay bet online?
It’s very easy to get started with parlay betting. But if you’re unsure what to do, scroll a little further up the page and follow our step-by-step guide. We’ve walked you through everything you need to get going.
What is a key parlay?
A key parlay is a way to bet on various parlay permutations, but not all of the possible combinations. One of your teams is chosen to be the “key” and all of the available parlays involving that team are covered. The rest are omitted.
What is a correlated parlay?
Betting on two markets in the same game is not allowed, as the probability of one event is correlated with the other. For instance, a soccer player scoring a goal greatly increases the likelihood of that team winning. So a “first goalscorer” bet cannot be parlayed with a “correct score” bet as this is an illegal correlated parlay.