How Does a Parlay Work in Sports Betting?

How Does a Parlay Work in Sports Betting? article feature image
  • How does a parlay bet work in sports betting? And should you avoid them?
  • Parlays offer sportsbooks a massive edge compared to a regular bet.
  • So even if you win a parlay, you're not getting paid anywhere near what you deserve.

How Does a Parlay Work in Sports Betting?

A parlay in sports betting is when a bettor makes multiple wagers (at least two) and ties them together into the same bet. If any of the bets in the parlay loses, the entire parlay loses. However, if all wagers win, the bettor gets a bigger payout.

For example, say a bettor wants to wager $100 on a three-team parlay with the Angels +150, Mariners +100 and Detroit Tigers +203. If all three teams win, the $100 bet pays out a whopping $1,515.

You’ll see us cover actionable parlays on The Action Network from time to time. We know people like to bet parlays, and we owe it to fans to cover them in a smart way when opportunities pop up. But, to be clear, parlays are not a strategy for long-term betting success.

Public bettors get lured into thinking otherwise. They want to get rich quick, and the parlay affords them the opportunity. Sportsbooks happily promote parlays, oftentimes tweeting out screenshots of huge parlay payouts for bettors.

CASHED: $20 12-leg NFL parlay returns $50,000

— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) December 17, 2018

Why Should I Avoid Parlays?

For casual bettors and weekend warriors, hitting this type of epic parlay is the ultimate fantasy. But why are sportsbooks so willing to share this information after they’ve lost large amounts?

It’s because parlays provide the house with a much larger edge than straight bets.

A UNLV Center for Gaming research study showed that, according to Nevada Gaming Control Board Gaming Revenue Reports, from 1992 to 2015 Nevada sportsbooks boasted a nearly 30% hold on parlays. (The hold is the percentage of money the bookmaker or house holds onto after all bets have been settled and paid out.) In comparison, every other major sport averaged holds of less than 5%.

Simply put, the books make a killing off parlays.

Parlays are the sports betting equivalent of the penny slot. Bettors keep going back to the well, over and over again, in hopes of hitting a big payout. However, whether it’s a penny slot or a parlay, the big winners are almost always the casinos.

Any seasoned wiseguy knows that sports betting isn’t easy. It’s hard enough to win one bet. So when you layer more and more bets onto the same wager, you’re playing right into the sportsbooks’ hands by assuming more risk and limiting your chances of winning. Sure, you might cash a parlay once in a blue moon, but it will likely take you dozens and dozens of losses before you finally cash big.

It’s also important to note that if you go 4-1 with a five-team parlay, you lose the entire bet. However, if you bet those five teams individually, you would have profited close to three units or more depending on the price.

For more sports betting tips, strategies and common mistakes to avoid, visit our Betting Education page. Also learn how to use The Action Network’s data to fade the public, follow sharp action and pinpoint profitable wagering opportunities.

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