Parlay Bet: What It Is and How It Works

Aizat Chew
May 27, 2024

Large potential payouts offered by parlay bets are exciting. Gamblers put together multiple stakes when they feel confident in the outcomes of several events, believing the reward is worth the risk.

Leaving aside the thrill of parlay betting, how to apply this strategy for positive outcomes?

I’ll cover the basics of parlay bets, how they work, how to calculate your winnings, and how to apply them effectively. 

What is a Parlay bet?

A Parlay bet, also known as an accumulator bet, combo bet or multi is a combination of multiple bets into a single bet. Your parlay will win only if every included bet wins. Parlays are mainly used in bets with fixed odds.

For instance, if you make a five-bet Parlay, all five bets must succeed for your bet to go through. If at least one of the bets fails, the whole wager will lose. This is the reason why parlays are riskier than straight bets. However, the higher risk underpins a higher reward since the payouts for combined wagers are much higher. 

Along with Parimutuel betting and Due Column betting, parlay is the strategy gamblers employ to drive their potential returns. Although the calculations in each methodology are somewhat different, all these approaches imply betting on multiple events, which adds complexity and risk yet elevates the expected value.

When it comes to constructing a Parlay, your opportunities are abundant. Gamblers can unite most types of bets into Parlays. Therefore, you have freedom of choice among moneylines, Spread betting, totals, Asian handicap, and other wagers depending on what your chosen sportsbook offers.

How does a Parlay bet work?

The overall principle behind parlays is connecting individual bets into a single stake. This method provides larger returns since all choices involved in a parlay must succeed for a winning wager. The more bets you add, the higher odds you obtain.

However, with every extra bet, you also add complexity and reduce the probability of the combined stake to triumph.

Let’s assume that you want to make a three-team parlay in the NFL, with Team A (-2.5), Team B (+2.5), and Team C (-6.5). This parlay will hit if Team A wins by at least three, Team B either wins outright or loses by less than three, and Team C wins by seven or more. Only the combination of all these events will grant you a reward.

How to make a Parlay bet?

Parlay betting is similar to constructing a bet slip for a specific game. You should select a game and determine your wager amount. Then, instead of handing over your card as you would have done with a straight bet, you should add another event. This way, you’ll combine the tournaments together in a parlay and get the automatic update on payout and odds. Remember that parlay bets may embrace different days, events, and even sports.

Strategically, you should decide which kind of sports you prefer for betting, what the size of your initial stake would be, and whether you are ready to take higher risks with potentially bigger payouts.

Different types of parlays

As already mentioned above, the parlay options are abundant. Let’s briefly explore the most common ones.

Parlay typeDescriptionBetting Tips
Standard parlayCombines several wagers, such as moneyline, point spread, or totals, in one parlay.While Bookmakers may allow for over a dozen selections, an excessive number of legs reduces the chance for success.
Teasers bettingAllows gamers to customize spreads or totals for a higher probability of a winning stake.When moving the spread or total, remember that the higher the chances of winning, the lower the odds of teasers.
Same game parlayUnites several bets from one game into a single stake.To increase your payouts, you can combine multiple same-game parlays into a massive wager, such as Same-Game Parlay Plus or Same-Game Parlay Extra.
Progressive parlayA variation of the traditional parlay, it provides room for error, allowing some of your selections to lose.Start with smaller stakes and focus on bets where you have strong confidence in the results, gradually increasing your bet as you build up wins.
Round robinEncompasses a range of smaller parlay combinations from a list of outcomes, allowing you to form multiple small parlays.Carefully select a few strong picks and diversify your combinations to disseminate risk, ensuring that you have multiple chances to win even if one or two selections fail.

Calculating potential Parlay payouts

Wise bettors should learn to calculate odds and returns manually, using some basic math.

Start by converting American odds to decimal odds. For positive odds, use the formula:

(Odds/100) + 1. For negative odds, use: 1 – (100/Odds).

I wrote more about this in my article on the odds. You can also use a calculator to convert different types of odds.

Once all odds are in decimal form, multiply them together. Then, multiply that result by your bet amount. In the end, subtract your initial wager to get the odds for your parlay.

Noteworthy, while offering the allure of high payouts, parlay bets often come with substantial Vigorish. Also called “vig”, it’s a Bookmaker’s commission built into the odds, which grows with every added stake. As a result, the house edge elevates, reducing the potential long-term profits. Understanding the impact of vigorish is crucial for parlay bettors, as it significantly affects potential returns

Parlay bet example

Here is an example of how to calculate parlay bets on popular sports:


Parlay bet:

  • Match 1: Manchester United to win against Chelsea

Odds: +150 (2.50 in decimal)

  • Match 2: Liverpool to win against Arsenal

Odds: -120 (1.83 in decimal)

  • Match 3: Over 2.5 goals in the Tottenham vs. Manchester City match

Odds: -110 (1.91 in decimal)


Convert American odds to decimal:

Manchester United: (150/100) + 1 = 2.50

Liverpool: 1 – (100/120) = 1.83

Over 2.5 goals: 1 – (100/110) = 1.91

Multiply the decimal odds:

2.50 * 1.83 * 1.91 = 8.75

Multiply by the bet amount (e.g., $10):

8.75 * $10 = $87.50

Subtract the initial stake:

$87.50 – $10 = $77.50

Potential profit: $77.50

Effective betting strategies for Parlay betting

While all kinds of gaming involve a great deal of luck, parlay betting is different from casino gambling since a comprehensive strategy can turn chances into more predictable outcomes. Below is the list of strategic approaches to organizing your betting process competently.

  • Identify strong betting options. Explore the teams, players, and games you plan to bet on to determine the most favorable betting options. Evaluate a range of factors, including recent performance, injuries, game history, etc. to make informed choices.
  • Combine different bet types. Diversify your parlay bets by including point spreads, totals, and prop bets. This strategy disseminates your risk and can elevate your results if all your choices are correct.
  • Manage your bankroll. Avoid spending too much funds on a single wager. I do not recommend exceeding 1-5% of your overall bankroll for parlay bets.
  • Limit your selections.

With every added choice, you reduce the probability for your parlay to triumph. Generally, 2-4 selections are considered optimal for a proper balance between potential gains and losses.

  • Secure your bets. If your parlay bet is about to win but you are not confident in the final choice, you can place one bet on the opposing result. This approach guarantees profits regardless of whether the final event is successful.
  • Avoid exceeding expectations. Proebsting’s paradox implies that even if you use a strategy designed to maximize your chances of multiplying your funds, the expected value of your winnings does not increase. To fight this paradox, focus on making well-informed, high-value bets rather than relying on complex strategies.
  • Apply Coherence to your betting. In the context of gambling philosophy, Coherence refers to making bets that are logically consistent with your overall beliefs and knowledge about probabilities and results.

Here’s how a coherent parlay bet may look:

  • Bet 1: Team A will win (based on their superb home performance and key players being fit).
  • Bet 2: Over 2.5 goals in the same game (consistent with Team A’s high-scoring games at home).
  •  Bet 3: Team B will win in another game (backed by their strong away record and opponent’s injuries).

Risks of Parlay betting

Successful strategies of parlay betting revolve around finding a proper balance between potential payouts and risks that increase with every extra leg. In order not to turn your parlay into a Sucker bet, you should avoid the temptation of extraordinary rewards.  

To ease the life of casual bettors, some sportsbooks offer a parlay builder feature. This option allows you to construct your ticket quickly and effortlessly. However, it only includes popular bets made by the public. Nevertheless, the feature empowers you to experiment with different bets you wish to add, enhancing the odds.

Parlay vs. single bet: What’s the difference?

The fundamental difference between a parlay and a straight bet lies in the progressive wager calculation utilized in a parlay and the conditions for a whole bet to succeed. 

Let’s take a glance on the basic features of each.

Parlay BetSingle Bet
Multiple bets combinedA parlay bet unites two or more individual bets into a single wager.Single outcomeA single bet involves wagering on just one event
Higher potential payoutsBecause the odds of each bet are multiplied together, the potential return is significantly higher than a single bet.Lower potential payoutsThe potential return is based only on the odds of a single event and is generally lower than a parlay bet.
Increased riskIf any individual bet within the parlay fails, the entire parlay bet defeats.Reduced riskThe risk is limited to the outcome of one event; if it wins, your bet triumphs, if it loses, so does yourn whole bet.
Cumulative oddsThe overall odds of the parlay are calculated by multiplying the odds of each individual bet together.Straightforward oddsThe odds of a single bet are directly linked to the single event you wager on.
One stakeThe entire parlay bet requires only one initial stake.One stake per betEach single bet requires its own individual stake.

Single vs. Parlay bet example

I’ll compare the profit calculations for parlay and straight bets to give you a better idea of the potential payouts.

Let’s calculate a three-team soccer parlay of $100 with the following odds: 1.2, 1.5, and 1.4. We should multiply the stake with these odds:

(($100 * 1.2)*1.5)*1.4 = $252

The profit would make $152 ($252 – $100). However, you’ll get a payout only if all three games go through.

If you place a $100 total stake on the three matches as three singles ($33 on each game), your reward would be about $40. Noteworthy, this scenario would bring you some profits even if one of the matches doesn’t bring the desired outcome.

Final thoughts on Parlay betting

Parlays can jazz up your sports betting experience, yet they require meticulous planning to bring positive results. By understanding the opportunities and risks of parlays, how they work, which profits they can bring, and effective methods to apply them, you can mold your winning parlay Betting strategy.

Although no magic tool guarantees success, a responsible and organized approach to parlay betting will help you maximize your gains in the long run.

Author Aizat Chew

My name is Aizat Chew. I specialize in sports betting and frequently share insights on my website regarding gambling companies, wagering strategies, and online casinos. I have prepared a guide to the world of gambling. Thanks to my enthusiasm and expertise, I strive to offer readers up-to-date details and top-notch recommendations.