Parlay Betting Guide

Parlays (or multis, or accas or accumulators) are a popular betting choice with bettors due to the potential for a larger payout, but there is a catch..

This parlay betting guide will explain exactly how parlay betting works, the method behind calculating a parlay, the pros and cons of parlay betting, when you should and shouldn’t bet on parlays and how parlay bets are won and lost. 

What is a parlay bet? 

A parlay bet is a sports bet that combines two or more single bets into one. 

How does parlay betting work? 

Let’s say you’re feeling confident in the chances of Cincinnati Reds getting a win over Minnesota Twins in the MLB, New York Red Bulls to beat FC Cincinnati in the MLS and Tampa Bay to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL. 

This will be three individual moneyline picks rolled into a parlay bet.

Using Draft Kings as the example here; you would go to each sports market section on the site, so in this instance the MLB, MLS and NFL betting sections and select each team. As you can see in the examples below:

You can see that I have selected my three individual moneyline picks. With CIN Reds at -225, New York Red Bulls at -160 and TB Buccaneers at -290. 

When you are happy with the number of your parlay selections, you will see your selections will be added to your bet slip. For most bookies and Draft Kings included, this will pop up on the side of the screen but for other sportsbooks and in app versions of bookies this may appear down the bottom of the screen or elsewhere. 

Now you can see that my three picks are all grouped together in my bet slip:

Here you have the option to place three single moneyline bets or combine them in a parlay, teaser or round robin bet. In this case we want to place a parlay bet, so you enter your stake in the ‘3 Pick Parlay’ $ box and this will calculate your potential winnings. 

As all three selections are favorites (most likely to win according to the bookies), I’m feeling confident about the chances of landing this bet so I’m willing to stake $50 on this. 

I have added my $50 stake to the 3 Pick Parlay option and you will see it has automatically calculated my $50 bet on the +215 odds parlay, showing that I would stand to win $157.83 if all three of my selections won.

You’d then hit confirm and place your bet, watch the action unfold and keep your fingers crossed that your bet returns as a winner.

While the large payout is a very attractive proposition, there is a catch. To successfully win your parlay bet and the sportsbook to payout the full amount, you will need to win every individual bet/selection/leg. If just one of your selections loses your parlay bet will settle as loser. More about that in the do’s and don’ts part of this parlay betting strategy guide. 

How and where to place your parlay

All of the top established online sportsbooks will offer parlay bets as an option. Some sportsbooks may require you to login before you can see the markets but others such as Draft Kings allow you to browse the category of sports betting markets and even add them to a betslip before you sign up/place the bet (which is great for shopping around for best odds by the way!).

Odds vary from bookmaker to bookmaker, meaning your potential payout varies as well. 

Before placing your parlay (or any type of bet for that matter), make sure you have compared your betting options. Especially considering the fact that bookies regularly offer enhanced odds or special promotions on parlays. 

How to calculate a Parlay bet

A parlay bet can be a great option for punters because it offers the chance to land a much greater payout on shorter priced selections. 

Taking the above example of the Cincinnati Reds beating Minnesota Twins in the MLB at odds of -225, New York Red Bulls to beat FC Cincinnati in the MLS at odds of -160 and Tampa Bay to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL at odds of -290

You will see that all three selections are the favourites in their games because the ‘-’ sign in moneyline betting odds, always represents the favorites, whereas the ‘+’ betting odds will be allocated to the underdog of the contest. Read more about that at our American Odds guide.

If I wanted to place three individual single bets on those three results I would get a much smaller payout for example:

  • A $20 single stake on Cincinnati Reds beating Minnesota Twins at odds of -225 would return just $28.89, and don’t forget $20s of that is your stake being returned so you are only making a profit of $8.89. 
  • A $20 single stake on New York Red Bulls beating FC Cincinnati at odds of -160 would return $32.50, a profit of just $12.50. 
  • A $20 single stake on Tampa Bay beating the Dallas Cowboys at odds of -290 would return $26.90, just a mere $6.90 profit. 


So using the above example, you’ve staked $60 and returned a total of $88.29 across three winning single bets. Using the same example with Draft Kings, I combined all three selections into one parlay with a slightly smaller $50 stake and returned a much more respectable $157.83 with the same result. 

However of course with single bets, if one loses and the other 2 win, you will still be paid out on the two winners, whereas with a parlay bet, if any of the three lose, your parlay bet will settle as a loser. So you need to weigh up the risk and reward factors. 

Effectively a parlay is a multiplier bet, where you multiply all the odds of your selections.

Taking the above example again it would be -225 x -160 x -290. The easiest way to calculate a parlay bet is to convert the American odds into decimal odds. 

-225 odds would be 1.4444 in decimal odds for Cincinnati Reds to beat Minnesota Twins.  

-160 odds would be 1.625 in decimal odds for the New York Red Bulls to beat FC Cincinnati.

-290 odds would be 1.3448 in decimal odds  for the Tampa Bay Bucs to beat the Dallas Cowboys.

So now we have the three odds in decimals it the parlay calculation would look like this:

1.4444 x 1.6225 x 1.3448 = 3.1515

The return of your parlay payout would be around $157 off a $50 bet. 

Thankfully for you we have our own odds convertor and parlay calculator, so you will never have to worry about working out the calculations of a parlay bet yourself. 

How parlay bets are won and lost 

The more selections you add to your parlay bet, the more you stand to win. But this is where often sportsbooks will make their money. Although a 10 pick parlay may look attractive with a potential return of X thousands of dollars, the likelihood of all 10 selections winning are very slim indeed. Remember it only takes one result to go against you and your whole parlay bet is a loser, regardless of how well the others have done. 

Lucky punters around the globe and the US do win mega parlays yielding a fortune but these instances are rare and a safer option may be to keep your parlay picks down to a realistic number.

Sportsbooks hate savvy bettors who back short priced favorites, as these are the most likely winners of bets. The most common winners of parlay bets are those who back short price favorites and combine them in parlays, keeping the number of selections down to a manageable level. Likely below 5 picks. 

Parlay bet types 

Parlay bets are popular amongst general sports fans as it’s not just exclusive to one individual sport. You can combine different sports and betting markets within one individual parlay. 

Let’s say you fancy the La Lakers to beat the San Francisco Earthquakes in the NBA, Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat the Detroit Lions in the NFL, Maple Leafs to brush aside Canadiens in the NHL and Justin Thomas to win the Masters. Your parlay bet would be four selections rolled into one otherwise known as a four-fold. Although the events and games are all across different sports, potentially different times and days, your parlay bet will still be valid and will just roll over from one event to another, assuming the preceding events are settled as winners.

Common parlay bets include; points spread, moneylines, totals, futures and even prop bets. These can only be combined if they are picked on different games. 

Although in Europe the sportsbooks have introduced in-game bet builders, where punters make a selection of predictions on things to happen in one individual game such as a player to score a goal, a player to be booked and a team to win in a soccer match. This feature may be coming to US sportsbooks in the near future.  

When you should / shouldn’t go for parlays

Parlays present bettors with the opportunity of returning sizable sums of profit so it’s always worth trying your hand at parlay betting but you need to weigh up when you should and shouldn’t be betting on parlays. Here’s a few pointers:

When you should bet on a parlay:

  • Confidence in your picks: First of all you should be extremely confident in the picks you are including within your parlay. As we already know, they all have to win and if you are having doubts about even just one of the selections, that could be enough to lose your whole parlay bet. 
  • If you have a free bet or promo: With the requirement for two or more results to come through, parlays can be harder than single bets to win. Parlays can be a risky bet method if you’re looking for a good ROI from your sports betting, but with a free bet you know that even if your parlay loses you won’t be out of pocket and will only lose your free bet provided by your chosen sportsbook. Also with a free bet you might decide to go a bit more ambitious and add a few more selections to your parlay than you’d usually feel comfortable adding with your own real money stakes. If you win, you could return a generous amount of money and if you lose it’s only the free bet you’ve lost
  • Betting on short priced favorites: Short priced favourites can be difficult to back as singles because the risk to reward isn’t very appealing. A short priced favorite may mean you’d stand to make less profit than your stake, which doesn’t represent much value for bettors. However, favorites are favorites for a reason and that is because they are most likely to win and sportsbooks know this, hence why the odds will be so unappealing. This is where you should look to include a handful of strong favorites within a parlay as you will get much more value for your money.
  • When your parlay picks are backed with stats and data: By doing your research before the events you can potentially get an edge against the bookies. For example, let’s say I have identified three games in the English Premier League and the six teams involved are all teams that like to play open soccer and in their recent games they have scored lots of goals but also conceded a few as well. I might look at the over / under betting and place a parlay on the three games being over 1.5 goals in each of the games. Individually as singles those bets wouldn’t return much at all but combined in a parlay, the odds would be a lot more appealing. 
  • When including double chance betsDouble chance bets are like a moneyline bet but you cover two of the three potential results of a game. Effectively this will increase the true odds of you winning your bet. As you can imagine, as you have two/three chances of winning, the bookmakers will generally offer very low odds on double chance bets, so combining a few of these in a parlay will give you a better chance of winning your parlay bet than usual and you will also have much more generous odds than if you were to back the double chance bets as singles.
  • When including Asian Handicap bets: Similarly to double chance bets, Asian Handicap bets allow bettors to have an advantage (or disadvantage) against the bookie before the match has begun. Let’s say there is a really tight looking game in the Champions League soccer between Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and Bayern Munich, both teams are champions in their domestic leagues and both have world class players. I have a feeling that PSG will narrowly win but it could also quite easily be a draw. I might go for PSG +1 in the Asian Handicap which means that effectively PSG are kicking off the match 1-0 up. So if the actual match was to finish a tie, let’s say 1-1, I would still win my bet because with the +1 handicap, PSG have actually ‘won’ 2-1. Combining a few of these bets in a parlay would give you a much greater chance of winning because you have a slight advantage over the bookie.


When you shouldn’t bet on parlays:

  • When the games look competitive: You want to be confident in your picks because parlays are difficult to win and because of that, you don’t want to make life any harder for yourself by including selections in competitive / even looking games, where either team could win (or tie) at a flip of a coin. The most sensible parlay strategy would be to include short priced favorites against a big underdog, the odds might not be the most appealing but sports betting is a long game and profit of any form can only be viewed as a positive.
  • When your picks contain a number of underdogs: Whilst combining a parlay with a selection of high priced underdogs may look good when the potential returns are so high, realistically you are entering a lottery and would need a lot of luck for all the underdog picks to win. If you fancy betting on a handful of underdogs it may be a better option to back these singly, as you will still get a generous return on a single bet on an underdog and you may only need a couple of these to win to make an overall profit, whereas if just one lets you down on your parlay then your bet would lose. 
  • When you’re focusing heavily on your sports betting ROI: It goes without saying that parlay bets are harder to win than single bets for obvious reasons. So if you’re looking to run your sports betting accounts like a business, you may wish to avoid parlays or at least keep them down to a minimum and instead focus on single bets which have a greater chance of winning.
  • When there is extreme weather: With a fair bit already needing to happen in order for you to win your parlay bet. The last thing you want is for there to be other factors that could make your life even harder. If there is extreme weather around which could disrupt a teams usual flow or play then it would be advisable to avoid including these selections in a parlay. 


Parlay live betting / in play parlay betting

It’s not just pre match/game selections that can be picked to form a parlay, this can also be done in-play as well while the contest(s) is taking place. 

This is potentially a great way to back pregame sports team favorites at a much bigger price. For example, let’s say that New England Patriots were the pregame favourites to beat Washington and at the same time Kansas City Chiefs were playing Cleveland Browns, with The Chiefs being the pregame favourite. 

We’re into the final quarter of the match and The Pats find themselves 20-18 down, 2 points behind in the game, while the Kansas City Chiefs are tied at 16-16. 

At this point with only minutes remaining in the game, The Pats behind and Kansas only tied, you will be offered much more generous odds on the two pregame favorites winning in-play taking into consideration all of those factors. 

Combining New England Patriots & Kansas City Chiefs in a parlay bet would return very generous odds by backing them live/in play with the result still very much up in the air. Whereas a pregame parlay bet on the two short priced favorites would have returned very minimal indeed. 

This is a good option if you’re following a couple of games and can see a couple of teams are perhaps behind on the score but dominating the play and pushing for the win, or if you know a particular team struggle late in the game and often drop points, or if a team have endured an injury to a key player during the game etc. 

Parlay bet example in different odds formats 

It doesn’t matter what your preferred odds format is, you can still bet on parlays with online sportsbooks. 

You might put a parlay bet on the LA Clippers to beat LA Lakers at -150, Manchester United to beat Chelsea in the English Premier League at -155 and the Yankees to beat the Orioles at – 275 in the baseball. 

The American odds parlay bet would look like this:

-150 x -155 x -275 = total parlay bet odds of around +270

The same parlay bet but in decimal odds would look like this:

1.66 x 1.64 x 1.36 = total parlay bet odds of around 3.7

The same parlay bet but in fractional odds would look like this:

100/151 x 20/31 x 4/11 = total parlay bet odds of around 2.7/1

Real life sports results parlay bet examples

In 2021 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl, Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship and Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in the NHL. 

The preseason odds on that happening were as follows:

Tampa Bay Bucs to win the 2021 Super Bowl – +500 

Milwaukee Bucks to win the 2021 NBA Championship – +550

Tampa Bay Lightning to win the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup – +750

A $10 staked preseason futures parlay bet on all of the above happening would have returned a massive $3305.

Parlay Synonyms 

The term parlay is the common way to describe two or more bets combined into one but across the world there are others terms for parlay bets:

  • Accumulator: This is traditionally the term that Europeans will use for parlay bets. Accumulators or “accas” are popular across all sports in Europe but the most popular is soccer accumulators which make up the vast majority of accumulator bets placed at bookies. 
  • Multi bet: A multi is exactly the same as a parlay and is just another term to describe it. A multi is simply a (multi) number of bets rolled into one to make one bet.
  • Folds: A fold is just another term for describing a group of multiple bets being placed into one. You would refer to a fold to highlight the exact number of picks you have in your parlay bet. So for example four picks would be a four-fold, five picks would be a five-fold etc 

Parlay Betting Guide FAQs

A parlay bet is two or more selections combined into one bet. All selections have to win in order for your parlay bet to be settled as a winner.
Parlay bets are a common offering for sportsbooks and you can place parlay bets at all the established online bookies. Check out our sportsbook review page for more information on which ones offer parlay bets.
Parlay bets are a popular option with bettors because it offers the chance to win a bigger sum of money. Parlays are one of the most common ways that people win big off the bookies. It also allows you to group together a selection of short priced bets (favorites) and return a more respectable sum of money than if you were to back them each as singles.
Parlay bets are a very popular option amongst sports bettors and bookies, and there are lots of bet types you can combine in parlays. The most common are moneyline, point spread, totals, futures and prop bets.
Generally the odds you selected when you placed the parlay will stand for most of the popular sports such as football, basketball, hockey, baseball and soccer. Occasionally a bookmaker will offer best odds guaranteed on horse racing, which means if the odds drift before your race, the bookmaker will pay you the starting price.
Yes you can. The top sportsbooks will have a live betting section which shows all of the featured sports events that are happening at that moment separated by sport. They will also show the competition as well as the minute the game is in at that time. You can select as many of these as you like to compile your live betting parlay.
You can cash out parlay bets, both before the event and during. Occasionally before the event the sportsbook will offer less than your stake, but once all your selections are being played, cash out can be a profitable tool.  For example say you have a 4-pick parlay live in-play, three of the picks are winning convincingly but your last pick is still tying going into the last 5 minutes of the game, because you are close to winning your parlay, sportsbooks will acknowledge this and offer you a cashout lower than the full potential return but likely more than your initial stake, so you can cashout for profit if you are unsure your parlay will settle as a winner.
Occasionally a game might be postponed for reasons such as extreme weather and other external influences. The good news is that if one of your parlay picks is postponed/voided that selection and that selection’s odds will just be chalked off your parlay, for example a five pick parlay would become a 4 pick parlay and the bet will still stand.
Parlay picks are a great way to compile your parlay with selections that the experts believe have a good chance of winning. Check out our picks and tips page for all our parlay picks.
Yes you can, in legal online sports betting states. Parlay bets are becoming a popular choice for bettors in the US, with all of the top established sportsbooks offering it. 

-160 odds would be 1.625 in decimal odds for the New York Red Bulls to beat FC Cincinnati.

-290 odds would be 1.3448 in decimal odds for the Tampa Bay Bucs to beat the Dallas Cowboys.

So now we have the three odds in decimals it the parlay calculation would look like this:

1.4444 x 1.6225 x 1.3448 = 3.1515

The return of your parlay payout would be around $157 off a $50 bet.

Thankfully for you we have our own odds convertor and parlay calculator, so you will never have to worry about working out the calculations of a parlay bet yourself.

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