Are Parlays Always Sucker Bets?

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Parlay Betting

The sports betting world features plenty of different wagers. Moneylines, point spreads, and totals are among the most-popular bets.
Parlays are yet another highly popular type of bet. They provide an opportunity to win a large payout for a small wager.

If you’re somebody who likes chasing big payouts, then you’ll appreciate this aspect. However, you should also keep in mind that many consider parlays to be sucker bets.

This term implies that these wagers are terrible deals. But does a parlay always have to be a sucker bet?

The following guide answers this question by discussing the basics of parlays, why so many people like them, and if/when they’re worthwhile.

How Do Parlay Bets Work?

Most sports wagers see you gamble on a single outcome. With a point spread, for instance, you’re betting on whether a team will cover its given spread.

Parlay bets differ, though, by seeing you wager on two or more propositions. You might bet on a team covering its point spread and another team winning on the moneyline.

The fact that you pick multiple outcomes within a single wager is entertaining. However, every pick must be successful or else you’ll lose the bet.

Here’s an example to further illustrate how parlays work:

  • Pick #1: New York Jets +3.5
  • Pick #2: Baltimore Orioles -135
  • You bet $100 on this two-team parlay.
  • Both outcomes win.
  • You collect a $260 profit ($360 overall).

Parlay bets let you choose the number of outcomes and what size of payouts you’d like to chase. More picks makes it harder to win a parlay wager. However, you also stand to win more because you’re accepting extra risk.

What’s the Appeal of Parlay Wagers?

Slot machines and lotteries are known for their big win potential. Both games give you an opportunity to win huge prizes with small bets.

Real money sports betting, meanwhile, doesn’t have the same reputation for big win potential—at least with small bets anyways.

However, parlays are an exception to the norm. They offer an opportunity to turn a rather small wager into a payout worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Here’s a look at what parlay payouts to expect when betting $10:

  • 2-team parlay = $26 profit ($36 overall)
  • 3-team parlay = $60 profit ($70 overall)
  • 4-team parlay = $110 profit ($120 overall)
  • 5-team parlay = $220 profit ($230 overall)
  • 6-team parlay = $450 profit ($460 overall)
  • 7-team parlay = $900 profit ($910 overall)
  • 8-team parlay = $1,800 profit ($1,810 overall)
  • 9-team parlay = $3,600 profit ($3,610 overall)
  • 10-team parlay = $7,200 profit ($7,210 overall)

Why Are Parlays Considered Sucker Bets?

Sportsbooks serve as quasi-middlemen between different parties that want to bet on matches. They set lines, accept money from bettors, and take a cut of the action (juice).

The juice is the bookmaker’s fee for providing their services. They don’t take a large cut of the action in most cases, but they’ll make an exception for parlay bets.

The average parlay’s juice differs based on multiple factors, including the individual sportsbook, bet type, and market.

Betting sites usually only take around 10% juice from the losing side. This figure amounts to roughly 5% from the overall betting action (i.e. winners & losers). If the average sports bet was a casino game, then the “house edge” would be around 5%.

Sports Betting

Parlays differ greatly in terms of how much operators take from losers. Betting sites will take up to 41% juice from certain parlays. Seeing as how it’s you against the house in this instance—rather than others betting on the opposite side—you’re essentially facing a 41% house advantage.

Few forms of gambling give operators anywhere near this type of edge. Lottery drawings and land-based keno games are among the few instances where the house is this greedy.

Of course, sportsbooks are able to mask the terrible deals thanks to the huge payouts. Some bettors don’t consider the awful juice when they’re only risking $10, or so, for a chance at $1,000+. But these same gamblers could get more out of their bankroll in the long run with other bet types.

How Do Parlay Bets Compare to Normal Wagers?

Again, most types of wagers don’t come with nearly the amount of juice as parlays. Moneylines, point spreads, totals, prop bets, and live bets are all more reasonable in this category.

Here’s an example on what you’ll commonly see with a point spread:

Atlanta Falcons +9.5
-110
Tampa Bay Buccaneers -9.5
-110

As indicated by “-110,” the losing side commonly pays roughly 10% juice. The juice can be higher or lower in certain situations, but it doesn’t deviate much from this amount.

If you’re focused on long-term sports betting success, then you’ll gain the most value from non-parlays. As I cover next, though, parlays aren’t so bad in certain situations.

Are Parlay Bets Ever Advantageous?

As covered up to this point, the average parlay bet doesn’t offer as much value as other wagers. However, parlays aren’t completely terrible in some cases.

These bets generally feature lower juice when fewer teams are involved. Here’s a look at the typical juice for parlays at each level:

  • 2-team parlay with 2.6-to-1 payout = 10.0% house edge
  • 3-team parlay with 6-to-1 payout = 12.5%
  • 4-team parlay with 10-to-1 payout = 31.3%
  • 5-team parlay with 20-to-1 payout = 34.4%
  • 6-team parlay with 40-to-1 payout = 35.9%
  • 7-team parlay with 75-to-1 payout = 40.6%
  • 8-team parlay with 150-to-1 payout = 41.0%
  • 9-team parlay with 300-to-1 payout = 41.2%
  • 10-team parlay with 700-to-1 payout = 31.5%

Even with a 2-team parlay, the house advantage (10%) is double that of a normal wager (5%). The 3-team parlay isn’t so bad either (12.5%) when compared to the other options.

Your long-term chances of winning money take a huge hit with 4-team parlays and above. You’ll be facing at least a 31.3% house edge when moving up to the bigger parlay bets.

Should You Still Place Parlay Wagers?

Sports gambling offers lots of freedom thanks to its betting variety. Nobody can tell you what type of wager to make.

Maybe you’re a recreational bettor who doesn’t want to risk much, yet still seeking big payouts. You should consider parlay bets in this case due to the large payouts.

Provided you know the risks going into the matter, then you can make an informed decision. You’ll be facing serious juice when adding lots of teams to a parlay. But these might be the type of thrills that you’re looking for with sports betting.

You can also choose parlays with fewer outcomes to lower the juice. You aren’t going to win as big when successful in these cases, but you’ll still get a decent payout. More importantly, you won’t have to pay as much to the house when losing.

Bankroll Management for Parlay Bets

If you’re going to make parlay wagers, then you should strongly consider only dedicating a portion of your bankroll to these bets. I offer this suggestion for two reasons:

  1. You don’t want to face high juice on the majority of wagers.
  2. Parlay bets can be extremely volatile.

The first point is self-explanatory because you don’t want to deal with such a high house edge. By distributing your bankroll across various types of wagers, you won’t keep butting heads with the extreme juice involved with most parlays.

Regarding the second point, parlay wagers don’t win quite as often as other bet types. Downswings hurt much more in these cases because you’re not bringing in many winnings to sustain your bankroll.

You should think about taking a balanced approach towards parlays that only involves dedicating a certain percentage of your funds towards them. Here’s an example on doing so:

  • You have a $500 bankroll.
  • You’d like to make your betting funds last for a while.
  • That said, you only dedicate a 15% of your funds towards parlays.
  • 500 x 0.15 = $75 for parlay bets

Conclusion

Parlays will never be the safest choices in sports gambling. They hit hard on two fronts through insane volatility and a high house edge.

Nevertheless, you might still consider these bets on occasion. You won’t face as high of a house advantage with 2- and 3-team parlays. These wagers give you an opportunity to win 2.6-to-1 and 6-to-1 payouts, respectively.

Parlays with 4 teams or more, by comparison, are much worse deals. They feature house advantages ranging from 31.3% to 41.2%.

You might still consider larger parlays when looking to win big with a small bet. However, you should definitely avoid them if you’re focused on value and not giving as much away to sportsbooks.

Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...

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