Parlays – A Brief Primer
Parlays are the most common high-risk, high-reward wagers in all of sports betting. They offer the chance to multiply your bet by orders of magnitude – perhaps to the point of generating life-changing money. However, they also bear a high likelihood that your bet will be lost.
The notion of risk is baked into gambling. No matter the type of sports bet you make, you run the risk of losing your stake. However, if the risk profile for spread bets, moneylines, or totals isn’t exciting enough, parlays might be a bet worth your consideration.
After all, there’s no denying that a parlay is invigorating. They are also ubiquitous throughout all the sportsbooks in Canada, so it’s important to know how they work.
What are parlays?
A parlay does not offer its own method to bet on a particular game. Instead, a parlay is a combination wager that incorporates several single bets together.
Each of the bets inside a particular parlay is known as a “leg.” Every parlay has a minimum of two legs and, in theory, could have an unlimited number. In practice, though, most sportsbooks won’t let you add more than 12.
This restriction is partly the book’s way of keeping bet tracking manageable. Each additional leg is another layer of complexity for both bettor and sportsbook to monitor.
However, the sportsbook also limits the legs because its potential exposure increases as the number of legs goes up. Although the chances of hitting a parlay are low, the potential loss to the book is simply too much to risk.
The high payouts associated with parlays are closely correlated with their high risk. As you add more legs to your parlay, the risk that you won’t win the bet escalates dramatically.
Your chances of losing go up because of one simple rule that parlay bettors must follow: you must choose each leg correctly for the bet to pay. Even a single mistake amid a list of correct choices causes the entire wager to be lost. In effect, each leg you add is another way for you to lose the whole bet.
How to bet parlays
Despite the dire proclamations above, a parlay is a perfectly viable wager to make. In fact, you don’t have to do anything special on your chosen app to get started with one.
There is no “parlay” button that you have to find within the bets you want to make. Simply begin choosing the wagers that you would like to comprise your parlay. Then, head over to your betslip.
On the betslip, you should see an option to combine your selections into a parlay. Rest assured, sportsbooks will make this procedure as simple as they can, as parlays bear a much higher profit margin than other types of wagers.
Once you’ve designated the legs for your parlay, the system will check your choices to make sure that there aren’t any conflicts. Assuming that everything looks right, it will be time to choose the size of your wager. Then, you can finalize the bet and hope that you’ve had a perfect day of predictions.
Forms of parlays
There are a few variations and tweaks that sportsbooks may execute with regard to parlays. Although they won’t change the essential mechanics of the bet itself, they may have profound effects on the odds and incipient payouts you may receive. It is crucial that you understand the following:
- Parlay cards – Parlay cards are primarily reserved for retail sports betting. They are just cards with potential parlay legs that you can select. There is nothing special about the legs in question – it just makes for an easier time if you’re trying to make parlay selections that aren’t in conflict and/or you don’t want to spend too much time putting together a bet.
- Pre-set parlays – One thing to watch on the cards or as promoted deals online, however, is the presence of the pre-set parlay. In many cases, the given odds on the deal will not reflect the actual or true odds that you’d receive on the same parlay if you put it together yourself. In order to defeat this trap, you need to select a leg with unequal payouts. Doing so defeats the preset odds and forces the book to recalculate your potential payout accurately.
- Teasers – Teasers are promotional parlay offers that involve the sportsbook manually adjusting your legs in your favour. A bet on the favourite at -10.5 points might move to 6.5 points, for instance. All of the legs in a teaser move with the same amount of change, and always in a direction that benefits you. However, the book will also reduce the potential payout as compensation for betting on the lower-risk wager.
- Pleasers – Pleasers are the other side of the coin to teasers and work the exact opposite way. Instead of moving the lines in favour of the player, the book moves its pleaser lines in its own favour. Of course, everything in gambling is a tradeoff, and the even lower chances of success betting a pleaser versus betting the same legs as a straight parlay mean that you set yourself up for a higher payout.
- Round robins – Finally, if you can think about parlays as being the square of a straight bet, then round robins are the square of a parlay and a cube of the straight bet. Where parlays are made of several individual wagers, round robins are formed by combining several parlays together at once. However, round robins do come with the added benefit of a margin of error. In other words, you can lose one of your round robin legs and remain alive in your quest for a payout – albeit at a reduced rate.
Parlay betting strategies
Now that you understand what parlays are and how to bet them, let’s talk about what you’ll need to do to give you the best chance of success when you bet a parlay. Bear in mind – you’re going to lose the vast majority of your parlays. What you’re trying to do, though, is minimize your losses and exposure and select the best legs that will compensate you for the losses. So, here are a few ideas that might help:
Don’t slack on the homework
This tip is true for any type of sports bet, but especially so for parlays. Each additional leg adds a layer of complexity to the wager itself, but it also increases the burden on you, the bettor. You need to run through your typical process or look at recent previous game performances on every single leg before you finalize the wager.
Even though that’s a harsh reality to some, the fact is that many sports bets are effectively 50/50 coin flips, you don’t have the wiggle room to be wrong once. You should try and scrape out any slivers of value and percentage that you can find.
Favour the favourites
Although we caution most bettors that they need to vary the mix of favourites and underdogs that they bet, we have to advise parlay bettors not to vary from the teams expected to win very often. The reason for our admonishment is the fact that parlays quickly become underdog wagers, even if they are composed entirely of bets on favourites.
For instance, we recently visited a sportsbook app and selected two spread bets at random from the roster of NBA wagers on the site. One of the selections bore a 6.5-point spread, and the other had a 7.5-point spread. In other words, both teams we chose were clear favourites.
However, even though the advertised payouts for individual wagers on these teams were -114 and -110, respectively, the app set the payout odds for a parlay on both teams at +258. To review – both teams are expected to win their games and beat their spreads, but the combined chance of doing so is more than 2.5:1 against.
So, bet however you like, but understand that parlays are hard enough to win if you stick to the most “boring” choices. Don’t add complexity and difficulty into a situation where you likely have more than you can already handle.
Although it probably goes without saying, it’s a bad idea to commit huge stacks of money to a parlay wager. The risk of loss is simply too great to ignore, and parlays are the silliest of wagers to overextend your bankroll.
In fact, parlays likely shouldn’t be a significant portion of your sports betting budget in general. You should stick to the simpler bets for the vast majority of your wagering, and only add a few more dollars as a parlay to add a bit of excitement.
Nobody sets parlays to be their bread and butter. Don’t attempt to be the first.
Keep parlays fun
This final bit of advice dovetails with the last one. Do not make wagers on parlays with large percentages of your bankroll. Instead, make parlays the lottery ticket of sports betting.
So, throw together a 10-legged parlay and drop $5 on it. You won’t miss the five bucks, but if things go your way, you might be putting tens of thousands of dollars in profit into your pocket.
Even if the bet doesn’t pan out, you still have the thrill and the rush of rooting for a variety of games and bets. You can throw your emotions into it, but your deepest concern is $5.
Parlays are a fine bet type if you bear in mind how they work. Treat them with respect and consideration, and you may just find yourself having some very good days at the sportsbook from time to time.