Basic Strategy for Betting Parlays
Have you ever heard of a parlay bet? If not, maybe you've heard someone mention an accumulator before? These are essentially the same thing: a type of wager where several selections can be made on the same ticket. All wagers must win in order for a parlay bet to be successful. The entire stake will be lost if even just one of the selected wagers lose. If one or more of the selections push (tie), then the payout is reduced to what it would have been had those selections not been included.
Parlays can be extremely powerful when used correctly. However, this is easier said than done. Since all of the selections need to be correct, they are often very difficult to win. To compensate for that, they offer very high payouts. We would actually go as far as to say that the potential rewards are what makes parlays so attractive, especially to recreational bettors. Unfortunately, most recreational bettors don't know how to bet parlays effectively.
This article is designed to make using parlays to your advantage easier. We explain one of the biggest disadvantages of placing parlays, and how to overcome it. We also teach you some of the best methods for betting parlays, and provide other useful advice as well.
The author of this article assumes that you have at least a basic knowledge of what parlays are, and how they work. We've given a brief overview above, but you can find more information in our beginner's guide to parlays.
The Problem With Parlays
We've already mentioned one of the biggest problems with parlays; they are hard to win. The truth is that it's hard to win consistently using any type of sports wager, so this is certainly not a problem that's unique to parlays. There's another problem with them too though, and it's an important one to understand.
There's no reason to get worked up over this though, since technically no sports wager offers true odds. Bookmakers build a commission into the odds that they offer their customers. Commonly referred to as vig or juice, this is one of the main advantages that bookmakers have over their customers. It's also one of the primary reasons why being a successful bettor is so challenging.
Our article explaining how bookmakers make money covers the commission they charge in more detail.
The problem with parlays is that the bookmakers often "shave" their odds. To put it another way, they charge a higher commission than usual.
We understand that this can be a little confusing. To make this clearer, let's put sports betting aside for a moment and instead focus on the casino game: blackjack. Imagine you buy into a table for $100, bet it all, win, and now have $200 in chips. You then decide to go all in again, win, and have $400.00. You repeat this process four more times going to $800, $1,600, $3,200 and then finally $6,400.
By going all in successfully six times in a row, you've turned your $100 into $6,400 of which $6,300 is pure profit. Imagine the next day you show up at the same casino, and there's a new game offered called Blackjack Parlay. The basics of this game are pretty simple. You make a wager, and if you win six hands in a row, the wager pays 60-1. If you lose any hand before winning six in a row, your full stake is lost.
Would you play this game? Probably not, since just yesterday you discovered that winning six bets in a row effectively paid 63-1. There's no reason why you would decide to now play it at 60-1. Oddly enough, this is exactly what most sports bettors do when betting parlays.
We already showed you that the fair odds of winning six hands of blackjack in a row are 63-1. We also know that both point spreads and total bets are 50/50 propositions, where the real odds of winning are very close to the odds of winning a hand of blackjack. So, we see why you'd assume that the payout for winning a six team parlay would also be 63-1, but it's not!
Take a look at the following table, which is an example of the fixed odd payouts a sport betting site offers on parlays. These payouts are fairly typical of what's available online.
Now to be fair to the online betting sites, things are just as bad with the Las Vegas sportsbooks and other bookmakers. So how do these betting sites, sportsbooks, and bookies get away with such highway robbery? Parlays and accumulators target naïve gamblers who either don't know any better or don't care to find out if the bets they are placing offer any value
We want to point out that although the true fair odds for a six team parlay would be 63-1, we could never expect to be offered that price. Bookmakers have to charge their vig, so the true odds would actually be the equivalent of what would be paid if you kept rolling your bet over and over and taking the individual odds for each selection.
The standard odds for point spread bets and totals bets, which are typically used to make up parlays, are -110. If you started with $100, and went all in six times at these odds, your final payout for winning the sixth wager would be $4,841.41.
- Stake $100 at -110 Win $90.91 Balance of $190.91
- Stake $190.91 at -110 Win $173.56 Balance of $364.47
- Stake $364.47 at -110 Win $331.34 Balance of $695.80
- Stake $695.80 at -110 Win $632.55 Balance of $1,328.36
- Stake $1,328.36 at -110 Win $1,207.61 Balance of $2,535.97
- Stake $2,535.97 at -110 Win $2,305.45 Balance of $4,841.41
A payout of $4,841.41 from a $100 stake is the equivalent of getting odds of 47.4-1. The good news is that some betting sites don't use fixed payouts for their parlays, and instead pay based on "true odds." So a parlay that is made up entirely of selections at odds of -110 would pay out at odds of 47.4-1.
A relatively simple way to overcome the problem of receiving unfair odds for your parlays is to choose the right betting sites. Ones that don't offer fixed odds for your parlays are a good place to start. Need some help finding these sites? Check out our list of recommendations!
There's another way to make sure that you get true odds for your parlays, even at sites that offer fixed odd payouts. Keep reading to find out more.
Forcing True Odds for Parlays
The majority of bookmakers and betting sites that effectively reduce the payouts for parlays only do so when bettors exclusively include selections that are priced at odds of -110. By adding any other selection to the picks, such as one priced at -115 or -105, they're then forced to abandon their poor-paying fixed odds and pay based on true odds.
To put this into context, let's say you place a six team parlay at your preferred betting site. All six selections are at odds of -110, so the potential payout is at fixed odds of 40-1. What would happen if you instead made 5 selections priced -110 and one selection -120? Your potential payout would then be based on true odds. We'll show you exactly how this would be calculated below.
Before you calculate the payouts for a true odds parlay, you must first convert the odds for each selection into decimal format. This can easily be done using our odds convertor. In the example above, the selections were at odds of -110 (which is 1.9091 in decimal format) and -120 (which is 1.8333 in decimal format).
Now that we‘ve successfully converted these odds into decimal format, we just need to use our multiplication skills to figure out the rest. So, with five selections at -110 and one selection at -120, the calculation would be as follows:
This gives us 46.49, which is the equivalent of 45.49 -1. This is significantly better than the fixed odds of 40-1.
What can we take away from all of this? Whenever a betting site offers unfair fixed odds payouts, we can force them to pay in true odds by making a selection other than -110.
Now that we know how to calculate true odd parlays, it's time for us to focus on the three scenarios where parlay betting would be most successful.
Best Methods for Betting Parlays
Using Sports Betting Bonuses
If a site offers their bonuses in free play credits as opposed to cash, they might just offer an excellent opportunity for betting parlays. Let us explain. When you bet $100 cash at -110, your essentially risking $100 to win $90.91. If the bet wins, you receive a $190.91 return ($100 stake + $90.91 winnings). When you, instead, bet $100 free play, you receive a return of just $90.91.
The free play is just a onetime use free bet. Whether you win or lose the wager, the free play will be gone. Use your free play wisely. If you decided to bet the free play in a three team parlay, this would give you the same payout as you'd get from rolling your win AND your initial stake forward two additional times.
Here's the point we're essentially trying to get a crossed; a free play used in a three team parlay is worth three times more than when it's used in a point spread bet.
Circumventing Betting Limits
Parlays can be used as a great way to bypass betting limits. For example, recreational betting sites often have a $1,000 max bet on NFL games. If you're a high roller and see three bets that you'd like to wager on one of those sites, then placing a three team parlay would make the most sense. This parlay would have odds of 5.96-1.
When betting all three teams separately, you're limited to risking $1,100 to win $1,000. When betting them in a parlay, you'll be risking an average of $2,185.33 to win $1,986.67 on each. Keep in mind that you'll lose more often when betting in this way, since all three selections have to be correct.
The higher payouts you receive when you do win should more than make up for the times that you lose, assuming that you're making wise selections. Regardless, this method can be effective for anyone wishing to bet larger limits.
Correlated parlays are a bookie's worst nightmare. To explain, let's say you were given the option to make separate bets on whether it will be cloudy today and whether it will rain today. In this circumstance, a parlay bet would be the best option. You'd either parlay both as yes or both as no. In sports betting, these types of opportunities exist, although their correlation may not be as intense.
An example is a college football point spread of -21.5/+21.5 with an over/under betting total of 44.5. In this case, it probably makes sense to parlay the favorite and the over, or the underdog and the under. It doesn't always work out, but the parlay seems to present more expected value than the straight bet here.
Additional Strategies to Consider
Combining the use of parlays with a sound strategy for buying points can be profitable. Only attempt this if you know how to buy points efficiently though. The best sport for doing this is probably football, and we have an article in our football guide that focuses on strategy for buying half-points. Anyone interested in more advanced betting would benefit from reading through this article.
If football is your sport, and you enjoy betting parlays, we'd also suggest learning how to bet NFL teasers. These are modified versions of parlays that move point spreads and totals in your favor. When used correctly, they can be one of the best weapons a bettor has in his arsenal.