What Is Parlay Betting?

There’s no doubt that the most common way to bet on sports is by placing single-game wagers, whether the bet is on the moneyline, spread or total. But there are some other popular alternatives, and one of them is parlays betting.

Parlays are wagers that involve more than one selection being combined into one large bet, and they’re one way for bettors to boost their potential return. These bets have the potential to be the source of endless excitement for those who enjoy a high-risk, high-reward wager.

Parlays are a fan-favorite in many legal sports betting states, including Iowa, which has been taking sports bets since August 2019. And thanks to the rapid growth of mobile betting, you can take part in parlay betting at online sportsbooks.

Below, we’ll go into further detail and tell you everything you need to know about parlay betting in the Hawkeye State.

What are parlays in sports betting?

In sports betting, parlays combine multiple sides (or legs) into the same wager in exchange for enhanced odds on the bet.

The reason parlays are so popular is they have the potential to be extremely lucrative. Parlays open the door for enormous payouts, and enormous loss. Some bettors prefer to place these wagers with the hopes of securing a huge return from a small stake.

A wager must have at least two selections, or “legs,” to be considered a parlay, with most betting sites setting the max number at 10 or 12 legs per bet. Parlays most often include moneylines, spreads and totals, but some sites do allow for props and futures markets to be included in these bets as well.

By nature, parlays make bets more profitable because there are multiple sides, and each one added increases the potential profits. But what makes parlays so lucrative and exciting is what makes them risky.

These wagers can be difficult to cash in on since a winning parlay cannot sustain any losses. Every “leg” of the parlay needs to win to pay out. With each additional selection, the odds of winning become riskier.

What are the pros and cons of parlay bets?

There are plenty of reasons to try parlay sports betting. Consider the following positives to trying your hand at these types of bets:

  • Small risk can lead to a large reward.
  • Parlays can provide a rooting interest of multiple games.
  • Can combine multiple sports/leagues into the same wager.
  • Allows bettors to use moneyline favorites that have no value as a single bet.

While the positives can make parlays the perfect option for some bettors, it’s also important to note the downside to placing parlay bets:

  • Difficult to win consistently because all sides need to win.
  • Each added selection makes it harder to win, even if the payout increases.
  • Depending on the site, certain markets aren’t included.

The exception to the rule that all sides must win is in the event of a “push,” a sports betting term for a tie. In these cases, the selection is removed from the original bet, and the wager is not automatically a loss. If you placed a four-team parlay and one is a push, your wager now becomes a three-team parlay and the odds are modified to reflect the loss of the odds that pushed.

How to bet parlays online in Iowa

Parlays are high-risk, high-reward wagers. Even though they allow the bettor to invest a small amount of money, the risk comes from needing every leg to win. The increased reward comes from earning a much larger payout if all selections win than you could if you bet each side individually.

There’s no better way to examine the risk and reward of parlays than by looking at an example. Let’s take the following three games using NBA lines from the DraftKings Sportsbook in Iowa:

Three single bets

In this example, there is $30 of total investment. If betting each selection on its own, these bets come with standard -110 odds and a $10 risk earns $9.10 in profit. If you were to win all three bets, you’d wind up with $27.30 in profit.

If you won two bets ($18.20) and lost one ($10), you’d still wind up with $8.20 in winnings from the three bets. Even if you only came away with one win, you’d still at least get $9.10 back from one wager and have $19.10 out of your original $30 left.

The lesson is that when betting on multiple single games, you don’t need to be perfect to still come out on top. But when betting parlays, that isn’t the case.

Let’s look at the same teams combined into a three-leg parlay:

Three leg parlay example

Rather than three separate wagers with odds of -110, we now have one large bet with +597 odds (+596.8 to be precise, but the sportsbook rounds up). This means that if you risk the same $30 and all three selections come through, you can win an impressive $179.04 in profit.

That’s quite a boost from the $27.30 that can be won by placing three single-game bets and getting every pick correct. Once you see the added opportunity for more money in profits, it’s easy to see the attraction to parlays.

But let’s imagine that you don’t get every pick correct, and you win one out of three. With a parlay, your entire $30 stake is now lost. Even if you go two-for-three, your entire investment is still lost.

The only way you win the greater reward is by being perfect, which is a difficult to do in sports betting. Parlays take away the margin for error that many recreational bettors benefit from to turn a profit, or at least survive until the next wager without losing too much of the bankroll.

Bettors manage this risk in several ways. The most common way is to wager less on parlays than you do on straight bets. For example, betting $10 on the total parlay rather than the entire $30 stake. At +597 odds, the potential winnings of nearly $60 are still higher than if you bet every game by itself.

In the event of a loss, you will have only lost one-third of what you may have spent on single-game wagers. The other way that bettors minimize the risk is by betting round robins, which break down large parlays into smaller bets and provide a margin or error in the event every selection does not win.

How do you to calculate parlay odds?

If you don’t have a parlay calculator on hand, figuring how much you stand to win is a difficult to do. Luckily, this is where online sports betting makes things easy. Add games to a slip and it will calculate potential winning for you, taking the guesswork out of it.

If you do need to give yourself an idea without adding plays to a bet slip, there is a model you can use. To give yourself an idea, here’s how the odds add up if all lines are -110, according to DraftKings Sportsbook:

  • Two-Team Parlay: +265
  • Three-Team Parlay: +597
  • Four-Team Parlay: +1231
  • Five-Team Parlay: +2442
  • Six-Team Parlay: +4755
  • Seven-Team Parlay: +9173
  • Eight-Team Parlay: +17612
  • Nine-Team Parlay: +33730
  • 10-Team Parlay: +64515

It’s important to keep in mind that this is merely a guide since it’s unlikely every single leg will have exactly -110 odds. For this reason, adding selections to a bet slip while using an Iowa online sportsbook app is the best and most convenient way to build these wagers.

Payouts alter the most once moneylines are added to the equation. Spreads and totals tend to fall in the +100 to -120 range (unless you choose alternate lines), while moneyline amounts offer much more variety.

All additions to a parlay modify the odds to make bets more profitable, but exact payouts will differ greatly depending on the number of teams and the exact lines you choose to include.

If adding the moneyline of a favorite to your parlay, the odds will increase but not by the same amount as a standard spread or total. If the underdog moneyline is added to a parlay, it will cause an odds boost even higher than a standard -110 line would. Keep in mind that the latter also comes with additional risk of not having any point spread.

Parlay betting strategies and tips

Stagger the starts of games

If the sports schedule allows it, consider parlaying games that don’t all start at the same time. At the least, try to ensure that the final game of your parlay stands alone and starts after the rest.

This way, if you make it to the final leg of your parlay, you’ll have an opening to hedge your bet and secure profits of some kind. It would make sure your parlay counts for something, even if it doesn’t ultimately win.

Staggering the starts of games in your parlay can also keep your rooting interest alive for a longer period. This method is especially important for casual bettors, and this will keep you from chasing bets all day long and mismanaging your bankroll.

Keep parlays small

Because parlays can be a way to earn a huge payout doesn’t mean you need to go for broke every time. How about boosting your odds while giving yourself a realistic chance to win without breaking the bank?

To achieve this feat, keep your parlays small — both in terms of the amount wagered and the total number of legs you include in the bet. Sure, a seven-leg parlay will pay you a pretty penny, but the likelihood of actually winning is very low. A two-leg bet won’t have such lofty odds but has a much better chance of earning you profit, even if it’s a bit more modest than a long-shot bet.

Correlate sides and totals

Some sites will allow sides and totals from the same game into one parlay, and including both in your parlay can be one way to increase the value without relying on too many games. Of course, there are times when you will prefer either the moneyline/spread or the total, and not both. But in some instances, correlating the two is entirely possible.

For example, if you think a particular team will win by shutting down its opponent on defense, perhaps that can translate to the under being in play also. If you think one side will win in a high-scoring affair, the over could be an option along with the team of your choosing.

Think about it this way: if the game goes as you predict, does that also do well for the over or the under at the same time?

Include moneylines in parlays

Whether you’re into favorites or underdogs, including moneylines in your parlays could be a beneficial strategy. If you’re on the hunt for the largest payout possible, underdogs on the moneyline will greatly enhance the odds.

On the other side, parlays also offer a chance to add favorites on the moneyline to your bet as well. Depending on the line, some of these favorites have no value in a single-game wager but will still boost the odds of your overall parlay. The odds won’t increase the same amount they would if you used the spread line or took an underdog, but they can still add to the potential payout while being a safer play.

Parlay Betting FAQ

Is it smart to bet parlays?

Parlays can be a useful part of your betting repertoire, but we would advise against exclusively betting parlays. These wagers may not require as much of a monetary risk as single-game bets, but they are difficult bets to win consistently and have the potential to lose more often than they win.

How do you do a parlay bet?

If betting using an online sportsbook app, placing parlays is incredibly easy. All you need to do is pick out the teams you want from the variety of sports and leagues available on the site, and add your selections to your bet slip. From there, you’ll be able to see the potential payout and hit the submit button.

Are parlays profitable?

Yes, parlays can be profitable since a large payout can be won with only a small investment. When you win, your winnings are far exceeding what they would be if you wagered on each game individually. With that said, it’s hard to win consistently enough to be profitable by exclusively betting parlays.

How often do parlays hit?

How often parlays win depends on multiple factors including the number of teams in the bet and the odds of those selections. Long-shot parlays with many teams and astronomical odds aren’t likely to hit, while smaller parlays with a couple of teams can lead to a much better winning percentage.

Are parlays a bad bet?

Parlays aren’t necessarily bad bets if they are made in moderation. But it should be understood that sportsbooks win more often than not when bettors place parlays. The house doesn’t offer true odds on parlays, even though the payouts are still exceeding what they’d pay out if each side was bet individually.