A parlay is a wager on multiple games all placed into a single bet. In theory the payout for a 2-team parlay is the same as if you bet one game, collected your winnings plus stake, and then bet the winnings plus stake on a second game. A three 3-team parlay in theory pays the same as if you repeated this process of rolling forward an additional time and a 4-team if you repeated it yet another time… so on and so forth. Some online betting sites allow players to bet up to 25-teams in the same parlay, while most allow a lesser amount such as 10-team max or 8-team max. Now I stated “in theory” because when it comes to football parlays the payouts are often less.
What’s important to note for football betting is many online sportsbooks short-pay point spread selections when adding them to a parlay. In their defense, they get away with this because built deep into their betting rules are terms such as “fixed parlay odds” for football point spreads. Although this might seem unethical, bettors always see the payouts prior to confirming their bet. So, this is more a matter of betting sites taking advantage of recreational bettors who don’t know any better, than it is cheating.
Beware of Fixed Odds Parlays
The image to the right shows the fixed parlay odds for football point spreads offered by popular US betting site BetOnline (review). Now to make sure we’re clear you can wager any number of selections as you’d like in the same football parlay. If each selection wins you’ll get the payouts shown to the left. If any one or more selections lose your entire stake is a lost. Now let me take some time to show what the payout would be if you wagered these individually and then rolled your profit forward each time.
You start with a $100 bet and wager it at -110, this is $100 to win $90.91 so if it wins you end up with $190.91. You then wager that all on the next game at -110, and this is $190.91 to win $173.55 so if it wins you now have $364.46. $100 was your stake, so your profit is $264.46. At BetOnline $100 pays $260. I calculated this by noticing their odds are listed as 13/5 and $100 has 20 parts of 5 so 5*13=$260. As you can see by offering “fixed odds” BetOnline is able to short the payout by $4.64. I’ll save showing the work behind the math, but if you were to keep rolling your $100 initial stake plus winnings forward 6 consecutive times without a loss you’d end up with $4841.27, of which $100 was your stake, and $4741.27 profit. Notice BetOnline only offers 45 to 1 on a 6-team parlay, when the actual odds are over 47.4 to 1. If you think this is small, it’s not; it adds up in a hurry.
When betting sites offer fixed parlay odds on point spreads generally the more teams you bet the worse the odds become. If you were to roll all bets forward 8-times, staking your full return each time, you’d get paid 175.45 to 1 and notice BetOnline only pays 165 to 1 on 8-team parlays. I cover some of this math in my article on football teasers in case you’re interested in how it is calculated, but for now let me state at BetOnline 6-team fixed odds parlays for football give you odds of -111.92 per team and BetOnline 8-team fixed odds parlays for football give you odds of -111.67 per team. For BetOnline parlays it’s fairly consistent and just a matter of rounding. However at sites such as Sportsbook.com and BetUs.com the payouts are even worse on higher number of teams.
How to Get Around Fixed Odds Parlays
There’s a trick you should know about. In Las Vegas, and with many online sportsbooks, fixed odds only apply to point spreads priced -110. If you were to add an alternative selection you can force the sportsbook to give you the true odds. For example an 8 team point spread parlay at BetOnline where 7 teams are -110 and one team is -115 you’ll end up with a payout of 171.8 to 1 instead of the 165 to 1 they offer if all teams were -110. You’re also more likely to win because teams priced -115 win more often than teams priced -110. The golden rule is to never select only teams priced -110 at betting sites that use fixed odds for football parlays.
Another option for parlay bettors is to just turn to sites which don’t short the payouts. Sites I know of that use true odds as opposed to fixed odds include www.bovada.lv and www.bookmaker.eu. Of course there’s another challenge parlays present. The best way to beat sports betting is to line shop for the best price. Forcing yourself to only bet in parlays, instead of straight point spread bets, limits you to using just a single betting site. Truth be told, more times than not parlays are an enemy of football bettors than they are a blessing. There are however times betting parlays does make sense.
Correlated Parlays Are Great
If a betting site allowed you to parlay yes or no for two propositions listed as “will it be rainy today?” and “willing it be cloudy today?” obviously you’d have a huge edge betting parlays instead of straight wagers. Unfortunately online betting sites block parlays for anything too heavily correlated. For example, a college football line from late last season was LSU –49 / NWST +49 with an over/under of 56. Obviously the betting sites did not allow parlays on this game because the results were too heavily correlated. However, there are times where correlations that do make sense are allowed. I recall the opening round of the January 2012 NFL playoffs had a very injured Pittsburgh Steelers team visiting the struggling offense and strong defense of the Denver Broncos. The line was Broncos +7.5 and over/under 33.5. The betting sites did allow me to parlay Denver and the under, which in my opinion was correlated for the reason I thought if Denver did cover the point spread it would most likely be by a low total. This wager didn’t work out as the game turned into a shoot out (go figure eh?) but I’m sure you see the point that betting parlays when there is a correlation does make sense.
Using Parlays for Bonuses
Bookmaker.eu offers a decent free play sign up bonus and then also offers 20% reload bonuses for deposits made on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. These bonuses are issued as free play credits, and it makes great sense to always use these on parlays. The reason is when you bet say $100 cash at +$100 and win you get back $200 (your stake + win). When you bet using free plays you only get back $100. This is because your $100 staked was a free play; it’s now used up and all you get is your return because win or lose that free play is gone. When you instead use Bookmaker free plays as parlays you’re getting to recycle this stake multiple times.
Circumventing Betting Limits
The final good use for parlays is to circumvent betting limits. For example, if you’re wagering with www.bovada.lv and they have a $1000 max bet on a football point spreads (the same they often do) but this bet has such large expected value you want to get a lot of action down on it. You could then bet more by adding this selection to various 2-team parlays. Perhaps you make one bet straight, and also make a $1000 parlay on the moneyline of the largest favorite on the board plus this team.
Parlays are mostly lottery type gambles for recreational bettors, but when used on correlated outcomes, or to increase free play value, or to circumvent betting limits they can be smart plays. In most all other cases you’re far better off betting straight using a football betting system over adding the selection to the parlay. However, if you’re just looking to gamble, be reminded to avoid fixed odds by either adding a team priced something other than -110 to your betting ticket, or by using betting websites with favorable parlay odds. Popular US friendly betting site www.bovada.lv is a great choice for casual gamblers looking to wager football parlays.
Editor’s note: This article provided a decent introduction on “what is a parlay bet” and some basic strategy. If you’re interested in taking your game to the next level, read our page on football betting strategy where many articles to advanced topics are linked.