Parlays are known as the most played of the exotic bets, since they offer the potential for a huge payout from a small bet. Simply stated, a parlay is a collection of two or more sides or totals which you bet on and all of them must win so that you can win your bet. If you place a four team parlay, going 3-1 is not different from going 0-4. All of your bets must win, or at least draw, so that you will win.
There are some types of parlays, those bet against the point spread and those bet using the money line. The payoffs a bettor receives should they win are rather different in the two. In parlays with point spreads, the payoff is fixed, whereas money line parlay payoffs are defined by the odds of each team.
Point Spread Parlays
The odds on a typical parlay involving point spreads, including totals, are normally something like:
2 teams 13-5
3 teams 6-1
4 teams 10-1
5 teams 25-1
6 teams 40-1
7 teams 75-1
8 teams 150-1
9 teams 300-1
10 teams 600-1
This means a bettor making a bet on a 5-team parlay gains $25 for each $1 if their games all win, whereas a correct 8-parlay will payout $150 for every $1 bet. The ability to win huge amount of money for a small wager is the main reason parlays are popular with a number of sports gamblers.
Money Line Parlays
Money line parlays do not use fixed odds because the odds of winning vary from team to team. Whereas a parlay which is made against the point spread assumes a 50-50 chance for each team of winning, money line parlays do not. The chances of the good baseball team with its ace pitcher on the mound defeating a mediocre opponent may be greater than 50% and the payout if the parlay hits indicate this.
For simple terms, money line parlays take the amount of your wager and put all of the money on one team and if that team wins, recalculates your bet amount on the next team, again making your entire bet on that team.
For instance, say a bettor likes the Los Angeles Dodgers +160 and the Chicago Cubs -130. If the bettor makes a $10 bet, they essentially would have a $10 wager on the Dodgers +160, which returns $26 if the Dodgers wins, and then would have $26 on the Cubs -130. If the Cubs also wins, the bettor has turned a $10 bet into $46. Contrast the $36 profit with the $26 profit a bettor winning a $10 point spread parlay on two teams could make. The difference in the payoff is because the Dodgers were not given very good odds of winning.
Are Parlays Good Bets?
The answer is no, particularly parlays involving point spreads or totals. The odds of the payoff are much less than the true odds. For instance, the true odds of winning a 3-team parlay when making point spread bets are 7-1, while the payoff is only 6-1, and it gets worse as you wager more teams. The true odds of hitting a 10-team point parlay are 1,023-1, whereas the payoff is usually around 600-1, so a parlay gambler is at a great disadvantage.
Money line parlay payoffs are calculated on the odds of the game, so there is no advantage or disadvantage when you play them.
Bettors should stick with straight wagers when betting against the point spread or totals since it is difficult enough to pick one winner, let alone two or more games and the odds you are asked to try and beat are nearly impossible to overcome in the long term.