In the sports betting world there are those who like to play it safe, and those looking to win the game with one swing of the bat.
For bettors who fall into the latter category, may we introduce the parlay bet.
Parlays are lottery-style wagers where multiple pieces must fall exactly into place to achieve a winning result.
- The upside: Bigger potential payouts.
- The downside: Just like anything in the sports gambling world, the bigger the payout, the more risk that’s incurred.
What Exactly is a Parlay Bet?
Put simply, a parlay is a wager where multiple bets are grouped together on the same ticket to create one larger bet. For a parlay to cash, all individual bets, or “legs”, of the wager must win (or tie). That’s right, if even one bet comes up short, the entire wager is worth dust.
A 2-leg parlay (or 2-legger), refers to a parlay consisting of exactly two wagers. Likewise, a 5-legger consists of 5-bets. It’s not uncommon for U.S. online sportsbooks to welcome parlays made up of 12-legs or more.
Parlay odds are calculated off the odds of each individual event. The result is that the payoffs are higher, sometimes significantly higher, than if you were placing a straight bet on any one leg of the parlay.
This facet of parlays is perhaps why bettors are so attracted to them, as there simply aren’t too many other ways to generate a massive payout in one fell swoop – unless you’re in the business of betting massive longshots.
What if One Leg of a Parlay Ties?
We mentioned above that a parlay will not cash if even one leg loses, but what happens in the event of a tie?
If all other legs of a parlay win and one leg ties, the book treats that leg like it never even exists. For instance, a 3-legger would become a 2-legger, and if the other legs won, you would be paid in accordance with the odds of the two remaining outcomes.
Naturally, the payout is going to be lower than if all three legs came in, but at least you don’t take a loss.
If multiple legs tie, and the others win, the same concept applies. A 4-leg parlay would be downgraded to a 2-legger if there were two ties, and to a single wager if there were three.
On the flip side, ties are irrelevant if any other leg of the parlay loses, since one loss is already one too many for the wager to cash.
Parlay Markets and Bet Types
Basically, the rule of thumb is this: If a sportsbook offers a betting market, then it’s fairly safe to assume that you can create parlays using that market.
The waters become a bit murkier when it comes to bet types.
Generally speaking, books will allow sports bettors to parlay multiple point spreads, totals, and moneylines within the same market, in so long as they’re not originating from the same event/game (and sometimes even then).
For instance, if you want to parlay the Bears point spread with over 48.5 on the Giants v. Dallas game, that’s fine.
However, books have varying rules when it comes to parlaying bet types that aren’t listed in the lobby, like props and futures. It’s not uncommon for a book to reject parlays consisting of a straight bet like a point spread mixed with a player or game prop within that same market.
Going further, trying to parlay just about anything with a future isn’t allowed at most sportsbooks, as they don’t want the massive risk leverage that would bring.
An exception to this is FanDuel Sportsbook, which is available in multiple markets (NJ, PA, WV, IN, and CO), and tolerates players that parlay single game straights with one or more futures, with some reasonable limitations.
The situation becomes far less restrictive when you’re betting across two or more markets. For example, if you fancy a parlay on an NHL moneyline and an NFL player prop, you shouldn’t run into any roadblocks, but it really comes down to the risk-tolerance of the book.
What is a Correlated and a Same Game Parlay?
A correlated parlay is one in which two or more bets are intimately linked together: If the outcome of one event goes a certain way, the likelihood of another outcome increases or decreases.
Same game parlays are just a subset of correlated parlays, in which the correlations occur within one game.
Sports betting correlations can be either loose, strong, or somewhere in between. An example of a loose, or weak, correlation might be the Kansas City Chiefs winning outright in their home opener against the New York Jets and Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes capturing the league MVP. Whereas there would be a very strong correlation between the Los Angeles Lakers covering the first half spread against the New York Knicks, and then going on to cover the full game spread as well.
Sportsbooks generally do not allow players to parlay correlated events.
For instance, on DraftKings, if bettors want to parlay the San Francisco 49ers (-3) with a total or moneyline (or both) for the same contest, they’re free to do so.
But there’s a catch, and it’s a doozy: Because players can gain a significant edge by parlaying correlated events, sportsbooks offset this advantage by jacking up the juice.
How much? That really depends on the strength of the correlation. If it’s weak, then don’t expect the house to charge too much tax, but if it’s strong, then the payouts will plummet.
This price adjustment is more than fair.
Think of it this way, if you were able to bet on whether it was going to be a sunny day, and then parlay that with a bet on whether it was going to rain, a win on the first wager would almost always lead to a win on the second.
And while sports betting correlations are never quite that strong, they’re strong enough where sportsbooks would go broke if they didn’t hike up the vig on correlated parlays.
Fixed vs. True Odds
Typically, parlay bet payouts are based on true odds. However, the term “true odds” is a bit of a misnomer since the vigorish is already baked into each of the individual legs.
For clarity, let’s lay this out in a simple example:
Assume that you want to place a parlay on two NFL point spreads where both teams go off at standard (-110) odds. The true implied odds for this wager are 50% — it’s a coin flip. However, a $100 wager would only yield a total return of $190.91, thanks to the vig.
To calculate what the two-team parlay should pay, we have to first convert the American odds to decimal odds. There are plenty of odds calculators out there that already do this, but if you want to do it manually the formula for negative lines is:
Decimal = (100/-(line)) + 1
For a -110 line the decimal odds are approximately 1.91. Now we simply multiply the decimal odds of all our parlay legs to get the “true odds” payout. In this case, it’s easy, since both lines are 1.91.
1.91 * 1.91 = 3.64
So if we wager $100 our return should be ~$364 on a winning wager, which is +264 in American odds. If you plug this parlay into a sportsbook and it shows a return of +264, you’ll know it’s not shaving any extra juice.
That said, it’s important to realize that even if a sports betting site pays true odds on parlays, the juice still increases for each leg added. Again, this is because each individual wager is already taxed. More legs = more taxes to pay.
Then there are fixed odds.
You’ll generally want to avoid fixed-odds parlay bets because they nearly always return less than the true odds payout. The good news is that most online sportsbooks go by true odds, and even if a book were to offer fixed odds, it would only apply if all legs of the parlay were -110 odds bets.
Fixed odds (-110) tables vary a bit, but a generous one may look something like this:
- 2 legs: +260
- 3 legs: +600
- 4 legs: +1100
- 5 legs: +2200
- 6 legs: +4500
Notice how the 2- and 3-leg parlays pay out roughly the same as the true odds payouts (the 3-leg is actually a little higher than the true odds of +597). It’s the players who bet the real longshots that get ripped off in this scenario, as a 6-leg parlay has true odds of +4740. Some books pay fixed odds as low as +4000 on these bets.
So how do online sportsbooks in the United States get away with charging such an oppressive vig?
The reality is that the players making these bets are usually either action junkies or recreational players looking to spice up their Sundays. Some don’t even realize the book is ripping them off, while others are fully willing to pay extra taxes if that means they can enjoy a day’s worth of sports entertainment.
To each their own, but if you’re looking to maximize the value of betting parlays, don’t bet too many legs. And if you must, avoid fixed-odds tables for parlays of 4-legs or more.
Other Types of Parlays
A teaser is a parlay where bettors can alter the point spread and over/under of each leg a certain number of points.
The amount of points depends on the sport. For College Football, there may be 6.5, 7, and 7.5 teasers available, while for NBA, it might be 4, 4.5, and 5 points. Teasers are only available for NCAAF, NCAAB, NFL, and NBA.
Like a traditional parlay, each teaser leg must win for the ticket to cash, with the only exception being a tie. In that case, the leg is thrown out, and the remaining legs are graded.
The allure of teasers is that they’re easier to win – much easier. Imagine having the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers at -9. Apply a 6.5-point teaser, and now they only have to win by a field goal.
Of course, the downside is that the payouts are also significantly lower.
If you thought parlays were for the thick-skinned, wait until you see Round Robins.
Round robin wagers allow players to quickly assemble multiple parlays from a pool of bets of their liking.
There are multiple ways to construct a Round Robin, and it can all get quite dizzying, but here’s a simple example:
Suppose you were interested in the Rams +10, Chargers -6.5, and Giants +7. If you placed a Round Robin wager, your bet would be divided into three 2-leg parlays (Rams/Chargers, Rams/Giants, and Chargers/Giants). This is usually denoted on the bet slip as “By 2s x3 wagers,” where 2 is the size of each parlay and 3 is the number of parlays.
It’s important to know that when you wager $10 on a Round Robin (RR), you’re actually betting that amount on each parlay. In our example a $10 wager is actually a $30 wager. Confused yet? This is why we don’t recommend RRs to beginners.
The good news with Round Robins is that you don’t have to win every single parlay to cash, as each parlay is treated independently. However, in the instance above, if the Giants lose the early game, then at least two of your parlays are lost.
Where Round Robins get out of control is when you start adding more bets. A 3-leg RR is relatively tame compared to a 4-legger, and downright timid compared to a 5-legger.
Think about it. If you select 5 games to RR, you can create 10 2-leg parlays, 10 3-leg parlays, and/or 5 4-leg parlays. That’s just madness.
What is Parlay Insurance?
Many online sportsbooks offer a promotion called Parlay Insurance.
These promos take a few different forms, but the central theme remains the same: If you place a parlay, and all legs win except for one, you’ll receive a refund.
It goes without saying that whenever this promo is available, parlay bettors should be taking full advantage, as they add significant value.
The downside is that Round Robins and teasers are typically not eligible, and the refund amount is usually capped pretty low, maybe $25 or $50. Still, it’s much easier to hit 3-legs of a 4-leg parlay than to run the table, so why not protect your bet from a bad beat?
Online Parlay Betting: State-by-state Breakdown
All states with legal online sports betting also supports parlay wagering, but there are some nuances and restrictions worth knowing about.
New Jersey is one of the most conducive markets parlay bettors, as it features a wealth of mobile sportsbooks, all of which can be registered for remotely.
All the major players are prevalent in the market, including DraftKings, FanDuel, Play SugarHouse, PointsBet and over a dozen others.
The main caveat is that NJ sportsbooks are not allowed to offer wagers on college teams hailing from New Jersey. So if you want to parlay Rutgers or Seton Hall, you’re out of luck.
Behind New Jersey, Pennsylvania is probably the second best market for mobile sports betting, as it too features a healthy array of apps, and remote sign-ups.
Does it feature as many apps as New Jersey and Nevada? No, but heavy hitters like Unibet, FanDuel, Parx, and BetRivers are all operating in PA with more betting apps on the way.
There are no restrictions on college sports in Pennsylvania, so bettors are free to parlay their favorite local teams.
Colorado is another state with legal mobile sports betting.
When it comes to college sports, Colorado doesn’t allow proposition wagers. By extension, bettors won’t be able to use college props in their parlays.
West Virginia’s sports betting industry is overseen by the state’s Lottery Commission, but licenses are held by existing racetracks and casinos.
There are a limited number of sports betting apps in WV, but the state does permit remote registration, and there are no apparent restrictions on parlay wagering.
Indiana is yet another state that allows players to register their online sports betting accounts from anywhere. The state is currently home to more than a handful of operators, with more coming soon.
Indiana restricts betting on eSports and competitions involving minors, but parlay bets in Indiana are legal.
Illinois has legal mobile sports betting apps, but Illinois bettors cannot bet (or parlay) wagers on Illinois college teams. Minor league events are also excluded.
Nevada law requires that users sign up for mobile sports betting apps in person. If you can get past around that antiquated limitation, you’ll find a ton of different options.
In terms of betting markets, Nevada is heavily diversified, allowing wagers on college sports, and more recently, eSports, the NFL Draft, and other niche genres.
Fire away, parlay bettors.
Iowa’s in-person mobile registration require expires in January 2021, but until then, bettors will have to visit a local casino to sign up.
Notable names in the market include DraftKings, PointsBet, Hard Rock, and William Hill.
Bettors cannot parlay eSports, or non-sporting events like the Oscars. In-game props on in-state college teams is forbidden, but pre-game is fair play.
Oregon has mobile sports betting through its lottery-run app, Scoreboard.
The market is about as good as one might expect from a lottery monopoly, which is to say, not good at all.
Bettors are permitted to make parlays, and the odds are fair enough, but there is no wagering on college sports, so options are limited.
Washington D.C. also decided that it would be a good idea to limit mobile sports wagering to one sub-par, lottery-run app: the unfortunately named GambetDC.
GambetDC permits parlay wagering, but the lines are so poor, why bother?
Yet another lottery run monopoly, the SportsBook Rhode Island app is the only option for players situated in the nation’s smallest state.
Rhode Island permits college betting but only on games that don’t involve an in-state team.
Be warned about parlaying -110 lines, as for these, the app uses fixed-odds tables, where 4-leggers pay out a measly +1000, and 5-leggers just +2000. That is extremely poor pricing.
To circumvent this, toss in at least one non -110 line into your parlay, which will force the app to use true odds.
New Hampshire is our final lottery-run monopoly, and its app is provided by DraftKings.
We’ll say this about DK, it allows for a lot of flexibility when it comes to parlay wagering, using true odds and permitting all sorts of correlated parlays.
Like so many other markets, New Hampshire does not allow betting on in-state collegiate teams – not that New Hampshire has a ton of those.