Should You Bet a Parlay?

Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images/AFP

If you’ve had fun, and maybe some success, betting on sports as a beginner, you might be looking for a way to take the next step, into more sophisticated gambling.

One way to increase the drama of game day, as well as your potential payout, is by placing a parlay bet. Parlays can be confusing and intimidating to a novice, but they’re a way to shift the gambling experience into hyperdrive. 

Basically, a parlay is multiple bets, in an all-or-nothing situation. Rather than placing your bets independently, the parlay links them, so the odds of hitting on all of them are much higher, but it will take winning every bet to pay off.  

How Does It Work? 

On an NFL Sunday, there are usually at least a dozen games on the schedule. Let’s say you like the Bills at -110, the Giants at +140 and the Bucs at -120. You place a $100 bet on each game. 

Chances are, you’ll have a mix of wins and losses in the three games, meaning you’ll have limited risk—you’ll lose money on some games, but it will be mitigated by money you win on others. You’ll also have a limited payout—you’ll get a windfall on the games you pick right, but you’ll have to use a chunk of that to cover losses elsewhere.

As you can see from the diagram, each individual bet will earn you around $200 if it wins (you get your $100 back plus another $100 or so in winnings), and you risk $100 on each. 

The best case is if you pick a winner in every game. A parlay simply looks at only that outcome. If you lose any leg of your parlay, you lose. If every leg pays off, you win big, because the odds multiply. Here’s a look at how much. 

At first glance, it looks like a minor bump in your winnings—from $614 to $740—but that’s based on a $100 parlay bet, not three $100 bets on individual games. 

The math works out, because it treats each bet as happening in sequence. You bet $100 on the first game. If that wins, you bet your total take on the next game, and so on. If you keep winning, the earnings multiply. But if you lose any one bet, you lose everything. 

Parlays can lead to some outrageous payouts. Occasionally, sports books will have to cutoff parlay betting on UFC fight cards, because fans enjoy placing small parlay bets on the underdog to win every fight, and the book’s exposure quickly becomes extremely high.

In 2015, a fan bet $1 on all the underdogs at UFC Fight Night 61. All 10 favorites lost, and the parlay paid him $48,291. 

Earlier this year, a fan turned $50 into $10,000 with a three-leg same-game parlay on a UFC fight, correctly picking the winner, length of the fight and outcome (submission).  

Same Game 

The same-game parlay that the UFC fan used in the above anecdote is an option when you think you have a sure thing. 

Let’s say you’ve decided that the Yankees are going to jump all over the Mets in an upcoming game. Based on your research, the game will not be close, as the Yankees are going to score early and often. 

Rather than picking multiple game results for your parlay, you can make multiple bets on the Yankee-Mets game to multiply your winnings. For instance, you could take the Yankees to win. You could also pick the over, since you think the Yankees will put up a whole bunch of runs. You could also pick the Yankees individual run total to be over, and you could pick the Yankees to be leading after the first five innings are played. 

The Yankees were a -110 favorite in the game. So if you’d just played your hunch and picked them, your $100 bet would have paid $90.91, and you’d have left with $190.91. Instead, your $100 four-leg parlay could pay $1,327. 

Of course, if the Yankees win 7-0, and everything you predicted to happen does…except that the run total for the game isn’t over eight (since the Mets didn’t score at all), then you lose your $100. Even though three of your four bets were winners. 

Some sportsbooks offer one-leg parlay insurance. In the above example, even though you miss out on your four-figure winnings, you’d still get back your $100 if just one leg loses. 

Parlays can add extreme drama to your game day or fight night. Of course, they can also end your day extremely early. But they’re worth a try just for the chance of the big payout.