How To Bet Parlays & Calculate Odds

How To Bet Parlays & Calculate Odds

In general, there are two types of gamblers. Some players are content to limit their odds and try to eke out a small profit. Some bettors want to throw caution to the wind in pursuit of the big money.

The parlay bet is for the latter group, although you should understand that you are not likely to be a long-term winning betting all parlays.

Virginia sports bettors are soon to have their pick of sports bets and inevitably you’ll be enticed to make a parlay bet at some point. Are parlay bets ever worth it? Is there a system for making better parlays? Are parlays easier to hit in some sports compared to others?

Making a parlay bet doesn’t have to be completely haphazard, so here’s a handy instructional guide to put yourself in the best position to win a parlay wager.

What is a parlay bet?

A parlay bet is a combination bet that allows you to fold multiple bets into the same bet. They are extremely common and found at almost every sportsbook on the planet.

Parlays represent a high-risk, high-reward proposition because of their required payout. To win a parlay, all of the bets in the parlay must be correct.

In other words, if you choose to bet on a series of games, you have to pick them all correctly to win your parlay. If even one of your predictions — known as a “leg” — is wrong, the whole bet is lost.

Needless to say, the degree of difficulty in achieving a successful parlay is quite high. However, to those who can pull it off, an outsized payout awaits.

It’s possible for a parlay bet of less than $100 to pay out a six-digit sum. Because of their rarity, successful big parlays are often newsworthy events for the general public.

How to bet on a parlay

If you want to take a shot at a parlay, the mechanics are fairly simple. Pick out the bets that you want to make, put them on the same bet slip, and turn the slip into the sportsbook along with your stake.

One thing to bear in mind when you’re making a parlay bet, though, is that your choices will have a dramatic difference on what your potential payout can be. Changing even one selection can change the whole proposition.

For instance, let’s say that you make a $100 parlay bet for the moneyline on a series of NBA games. These parlay picks are as follows:

  • Los Angeles Clippers:       +150
  • Los Angeles Lakers:           -180
  • Memphis Grizzlies:             +112
  • Portland Trail Blazers:        -134
  • Boston Celtics:                   +160
  • Milwaukee Bucks:               -195
  • Sacramento Kings:              -136
  • San Antonio Spurs:             +114
  • Houston Rockets:                -105
  • Dallas Mavericks:                 -113

If you choose the Clippers, Blazers, Bucks, Kings and Rockets, your parlay bet looks like this:

  • Stake:                     $100
  • Potential profit:     $2,137.57
  • Total payout:          $2,237.57

If you believe the Spurs might be able to win the game and change that leg, the new numbers look like this:

  • Stake:                      $100
  • Potential profit:      $2,659.41
  • Total payout:           $2,759.41

So, just by shifting one selection, the payout changed by more than $500. Bear in mind, neither of these teams are overwhelming favorites or underdogs — the straight odds on the Spurs winning is only 1.14 to 1.

However, picking the Spurs increased the potential payout on the parlay by more than 24%. So, you can imagine how profound the difference could be if you made more substantial tweaks to your parlay mix.

What do parlays pay?

Parlays promise outsized payouts for those who manage to win them. However, at first glance, it may seem like the payouts are arbitrary and doled out at the discretion of the sportsbook.

But usually parlays odds are tied to the underlying game odds, but with more of a winning bet staying with the sportsbook than a straight bet.

Most US online sportsbooks will calculate the odds for you as you add wagers to your bet slip. Putting together several heavily favored sides will create a much lower payout than a parlay made up of even or plus odds.

Here’s a page with a parlay calculator that will give you a sense of how US sportsbooks operate.

Some sportsbooks offer fixed odds payouts, and the odds therein often don’t have a close relationship to the actual odds of the situation.

Most Las Vegas sportsbooks, for example, offer the following fixed odds payouts:

  • 2 picks: 13/5
  • 3 picks: 6/1
  • 4 picks: 10/1
  • 5 picks: 20/1
  • 6 picks: 40/1
  • 7 picks: 75/1
  • 8 picks: 150/1

These payouts assume that both bets are offered at the standard -110 payout, where a $110 bet could result in a $210 payout ($100 profit plus the $110 bet). However, there’s a problem with this logic if you take the time to do the math.

To start, let’s assume that you bet $100 each time. If you bet successfully according to the paytable above, your parlay payouts (profits) would be as follows:

  • 2 picks: $260
  • 3 picks: $600
  • 4 picks: $1,000
  • 5 picks: $2,000
  • 6 picks: $4,000
  • 7 picks: $7,500
  • 8 picks: $15,000

Those are nice amounts, to be sure. But, let’s take a look at what would happen if you made each of those bets at -110 individually and rolled your winnings over to the next bet.

Let’s say you win your first game and receive a $191 payout since the -110 pays out $0.91 for every dollar bet. With each new pick, you roll your profits into the next wager. Here’s how it would look:

  • 2 picks: $265
  • 3 picks: $597
  • 4 picks: $1,231
  • 5 picks: $2,441
  • 6 picks: $4,651
  • 7 picks: $8,970
  • 8 picks: $17,215

As you can tell, the fixed betting odds are alright for the first couple of legs, but quickly turn into a bad deal for the bettor and a great deal for the sportsbook. By the time you reach the 8-pick parlay, you’re surrendering more than $2,000 worth of equity that you should have realized.

How to force true odds on a parlay bet

The calculation above that shows you what you should be paid for a parlay, rather than the fixed odds payout table, is a demonstration of the true odds. But how exactly do we calculate parlay odds?

By deconstructing the given ratio in terms of its payout and wager ($210 from $110), we can arrive at a multiplier for bets of any size. In other words, since 210/110 = 1.91, we can multiply any bet size times 1.91 to find out what the payout at -110 should be.

Of course, a sportsbook does not use the fixed odds payout as a suggestion. If you make a parlay where both choices are listed at -110, you will have to abide by the reduced payouts advertised.

However, there is a way to force the bookmaker to give you the true odds of your parlay. Quite simply, make sure to choose a leg that does not have equal payouts.

So, instead of choosing 8 legs at -110, choose 7 at -110 and an eighth at -120. Doing so ruptures the payout table and forces the sportsbook to make an in-the-moment calculation.

With all the variation online, it is less likely that you’ll have to force true parlay odds with online sportsbooks. For the most part, it’s no problem for online sportsbooks to calculate your odds on the fly.

Parlay bet variants

For most bettors, the straight parlay is exciting enough. However, there are a few variants that you may encounter from time to time, and they might be worth your attention.


The first, and most common, parlay variant is the teaser. Sportsbooks offer teasers when they are trying to generate more action on a particular group of wagers.

A teaser is a parlay where the sportsbook artificially alters the spreads or totals in the bettor’s favor. So, for instance, a football team favored to win by 10 points might now only need to win by four to beat the spread. Similarly, a bet that the total points will go over might see a reduction in the expected total.

The long and short of it is that a teaser increases the chances of winning vs. a straight parlay.

However, teasers also come with reduced payouts according to how steep the adjustment is. The bigger the adjustment, the fewer dollars that the bettor can hope to earn.


A sportsbook can also offer the mirror image of a teaser bet to parlay bettors. In a pleaser, the sportsbook adjusts the spreads or totals in favor of itself, rather than the player.

The parlay, therefore, becomes that much harder to achieve. It might seem odd that any player would ever choose to bet on a pleaser, then.

Of course, along with the inversion of the advantage comes the augmentation of the payout potential, rather than its reduction. In other words, players who can win a pleaser will win even more than they would in a straight parlay.

Round robins

The third type of parlay variant that you may come across is the round-robin. The easiest way to explain this kind of bet is that it is a parlay made up of parlays.

However, they can be a great way to cut down on the risk of parlay betting. Round robins are the only type of parlay bet in which parts of the wager can lose and you can still win some money.

How round robin bets work

These bets are easier to grasp with an example. So, let’s say that you want to bet on games A, B, and C.

On the one hand, you could make a straight parlay and put A, B, and C into the same bet. You’ve got action on all three games, sure. But if one of them doesn’t behave as you predicted, you lose.

However, if you wanted to do a round-robin, you could make a single bet composed of three separate parlays. The three parlays would each have two legs and would be the following:

  1. AB
  2. AC
  3. BC

It’s best to have picked all three games successfully. However, if you happened to pick wrong on game C, for instance, the round-robin bet might still pay you out for your AB parlay.

Losing any game in a parlay is never a good thing. But, round robins can be a great way to mitigate the all-or-nothing risk that comes with a standard parlay bet.

Pros & cons to betting parlays

There are great reasons both for and against parlay betting. Some bettors avoid them like the plague, but others will take a shot on one from time to time. If you’re considering a parlay bet, here are some of the pros and cons for betting them:


  • Potential for huge wins: There’s no denying that a successful parlay can exponentially increase the money in your pocket. If you add enough legs to the deal, you might even win life-changing amounts. Again, these are extremely difficult to hit, but there are often stories of them happening in real life
  • Excitement: Parlays are a great way to inject some energy into watching a group of sporting events. If you are looking for a way to care about a set of games on the television, an all-or-nothing bet is a great way to do it.


  • Low chance of success: There’s a reason that sportsbooks love parlays. Most of the time, parlays do not payout, so make sure that you have a thick skin about losing.
  • Stress: Along with the low chance of success, parlays are stressful propositions. There’s nothing tenser than a parlay bettor who has made several correct predictions and is sweating out the final leg of his bet.
  • Demoralization: Even the best sports bettor doesn’t pick everything correctly, but parlays require nothing short of perfection, and a loss could easily cause the bettor to get into their head about sports betting.

Parlay strategy

It’s hard to recommend a consistent strategy for betting parlays. To be honest, as a general rule, you shouldn’t do them. However, there are a few things that you can do if you’re bound and determined to bet on parlays.

Bet with “throw-away” money

The first bit of strategy relates to your money management. Under no circumstance should you place a parlay wager with money that means anything to your life. Other than your simple ownership of the cash, you should have no reason or use for it before you bet it.

If there’s any choice at all about spending parlay money, choose the other thing. Even if the choice is something as simple as making a parlay bet or buying an ice cream cone, you should go get some ice cream.

Limit your legs

Parlays are high-risk in any capacity. However, as you increase the number of choices that you make, you exponentially raise the odds against your success. So, don’t go crazy and add a bunch of legs together.

Newspapers and television news love to report gamblers who made successful parlays with more than 10 legs. Those stories always come with big dollar wins, so they make for good reading or viewing.

However, don’t be deceived. The chance of winning an even money parlay with only 2 picks is still 2.65 to 1, and it only gets worse from there.

Look for correlations

The last thing to do if you’re making a parlay bet is to examine the bets that you’re making for any correlations that may exist. In general, a sportsbook will make your bet on different games and elements that have nothing to do with one another.

However, if you can find two bets that might affect one another – such as a game with a high predicted spread and predicted the total number of points – you may be able to cut down on some of the risks. In other words, look for situations in which the occurrence of Bet A means that the occurrence of Bet B is more likely. Some sportsbooks may let you do this.

Parlays can be fun, exciting, infuriating, and tough to win. However, if you are looking for a way to spice things up, they can be exactly what the doctor ordered. Under no circumstances should you bet the house on one, or you may find yourself in some very uncomfortable conversations with family members and the bank.