Parlay Definition & Examples in Sports Betting

South Florida Bulls bench reacts.
South Florida Bulls bench reacts. / William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever wanted increased odds on a few picks that you’re looking to make?

That’s where a parlay comes in. If you are confident in two or more picks when betting on sports, you can put those bets together to get increased odds, and an increased payout, if all of the bets hit. 

Let’s get into everything you need to know about parlays in sports betting.

What Is a Parlay?

A parlay is a bet when two or more bets are linked together to create a single bet, which is called a parlay, that has increased odds and thus a greater payout if it hits. In order to win a parlay bet, all of the bets in the parlay must hit. If not, the bet loses. 

Sportsbooks will increase the odds as you add more picks to a parlay bet. That is because as you add more games to your parlay, the likelihood of it happening decreases. 

So what bets can you parlay? The short answer is almost anything depending on the sportsbook. You can parlay moneylines, totals, player props, spreads, and other prop bets. 

Parlays allow you to play underdogs and favorites together, essentially any combination you can think of. Parlays are fun to bet because they can lead to massive payouts, but they are generally hard to win on consistently because multiple outcomes are needed for it to cash. 

Parlays in Sports Betting Explained

Looking at some odds from WynnBET Sportsbook, let’s say that you want to bet on three games in the NBA, taking the Atlanta Hawks moneyline, the under in the Cleveland Cavaliers-Indiana Pacers game, and the New Orleans Pelicans -5.5 against the Houston Rockets.

Instead of putting money on each game individually, you can choose to parlay all three picks together to get an increased payout. 

For example, if you bet each game individually, here’s what your payouts would look like if you won:

  • Hawks Moneyline (Bet $10 to win $20.50)
  • Cavs-Pacers Under (Bet $10 to win $19.09)
  • Pelicans -5 (Bet $10 to win $19.09)

However, if you parlay all three of these picks together, you can bet $10 to win $64.71 if every bet hits.

However, if one of the three picks fails to hit, the parlay will lose. That’s what makes parlay betting so tough, as you are relying on multiple wagers to be correct in order to win anything. 

Parlays can have extremely high payouts depending the likelihood of the picks and the amount of picks that are put together, but they will be deemed a loss if one or more of those picks fails to hit. 

How to Make a Parlay Bet

Using the example above, when making a parlay bet, you need to select the games that you would like to bet on, and then choose the option to parlay them together rather than betting on them separately. 

Sportsbooks will give you the option to place the wagers as singles (one wager for each bet) or as a parlay where you place one wager on the combination of all the bets hitting. 

How to Calculate Parlay Payouts

Sportsbooks will calculate your parlay odds for you, but if you want to do it yourself, there is a simple formula to get it done. 

To calculate a parlay payout with American odds, you first need to convert the bets to decimal odds. 

For example, -110 odds give you a payout of 1.91 if the bet hits, and in the example above, we have two bets at -110 odds.

Decimal odds

  • Hawks Moneyline (2.05) x Cavs-Pacers Under (1.91) x Pelicans -5 (1.91)
  • 2.05 x 1.91 x 1.91 = 7.4786
  • 7.4786 - 1 (the one is the unit you put down on the bet)
  • 6.4786

This means that your parlay pays out at +647 odds. 

Betting Parlays: Is It a Good Strategy? 

When it comes to betting parlays, it is important to understand that while the payouts can be appealing, the odds are not as high as they should be given the actual chances of the parlay hitting. 

Parlays are fun to bet, but they are not the way to become a profitable sports bettor in the long term. For what it is worth, sportsbooks make a ton of money on parlays, mainly because there are so many factors that go into a bet actually hitting. 

It’s important to look at implied probability of bets when looking at the odds. For example, when betting on something with -110 odds, the implied probability that it occurs is 52.38%, although the true odds at 50%. 

That is because of the juice on the odds at a sportsbook. Juice in sports betting is the cut a sportsbook takes from every bet.

As you add more picks to a parlay, the odds will move to say +300, but the implied probability drops to just 25%. 

You should mainly bet parlays by understanding that you are trading the likelihood of a bet hitting for the thrill of watching the parlay pan out. It is not a strategy that will allow you to be profitable in the long term, but it can be fun to toss a few bucks on a parlay to see if it will hit/for the entertainment factor.

Learn more about sports betting in the US in our Sports Betting Education guide.