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Gambling 101: What is a Parlay Bet?

A parlay bet is risky yet the rewards can grow exponentially! Better understand the gambling world with another Gambling 101 installment.

Legal sports betting is now available in several states, and bills are pending in many more. Full-service sportsbooks are popping up across the country and offer everything from futures betting to live in-game wagering options. Parlays are part of the package, and this SI Gambling 101 feature focuses on the pitfalls and benefits associated with accumulator bets.

Parlay betting is high risk and high reward. It's not for everyone and is shunned by some in the betting community due to low winning percentages. For those that don't mind a little extra risk to collect a more substantial reward, there are a variety of parlay options available. 

Offered on all major pro and college sports, a two-team combo is the most basic parlay. While the risk rises, with each added leg, bettors can include upwards of 15 teams on a single wager. Each team selected must win or tie to cash a winning ticket. For example, if one game ends in a tie, a four-team parlay would be reduced to a three-team ticket. 

Point spread, moneyline, and game total options can be used on parlays. Tickets can consist of multiple wagers on a single sport or selections from a variety of sports. For example, on Super Bowl Sunday bettors can build a parlay ticket with the NFL title game and add bets from the NBA and NHL. Original investments are returned on winning parlay wagers. 

What are the Payouts on Parlay Tickets?

Calculating parlay payouts is a complicated process that requires figuring out implied odds. To simplify things, let's use two sides that are both priced with (-110) odds. Those lines convert to 1.91 decimal odds that are then multiplied together to reach 3.64 implied odds. Therefore, Pittsburgh (-110) plus Baltimore (-110) would return a $264 profit on a $100 wager. 

Calculation: 1.91 X 1.91 = 3.64 implied odds X $100 bet = $264 profit.

During the 2020 NFC and AFC Championships games, bettors were asked to pay heavy juice to bet on the Chiefs and 49ers. Wagering on the favorites paid a $58.82 total return on two $100 bets. Bettors who tied Kansas City and San Francisco together earned a $134.95 profit on a $200 two-team parlay. There was added risk since both teams needed to win, but the reward was an extra $76.13 profit. 

Tennessee Titans (+280) @ Kansas City Chiefs (-340) 
Green Bay Packers (+280) @ San Francisco 49ers (-340)

Parlay Betting Pros and Cons

The biggest drawback with parlays is the added risk that comes from needing to select two or more sides. Everyone knows how difficult it can be to pick just one winner. Odds of cashing a single bet are basically 50/50 since one side will win and one side will lose. While the payout goes up, odds of winning get worse with each team added to a parlay ticket. Combos are "all or nothing" bets, as winning three games on a four-team team combo doesn't earn a return. 

SI Recommends

Beyond the large payouts, earned with a small investment, parlays have positives. When possible, it's wise to have a mix of early and late-night games on parlay tickets. If the early games win, an in-game wager on the late-night contest can set up a guaranteed profit. Also, some sportsbooks offer early cashouts to reduce their risk. The payout is lower, but bettors don't need to sweat the games still in play. Hedges and cashouts are personal decisions worth considering.

Cashing winning parlay tickets is a huge rush and can help player's boost their bankroll. Before placing bets, players need to perform proper research and should avoid adding longshots to parlay tickets. On the other side of the coin, bookmakers have an edge over parlay players, and that's why they tempt them with such significant returns. Parlays are an exciting betting option, but moderation is suggested.

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