For those new to sports betting, a parlay bet is made by placing a concurrent wager on two or more teams (often limited to 12 teams). To cash a parlay bet, the bettor must pick the winner in each game contested. The plays needn't run in a specific order, and games used in parlay betting may be selected using spreads, money lines or combinations of these types of wagers.
The main advantage of a parlay bet lies in reaping a potentially greater reward than if you played games individually. Moreover, since you can bet a little to win a lot, you save money by betting a losing $20 six-team parlay compared with betting six $20 straight bets on the individual teams when you lose four (or more) of the six games.
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The first disadvantage is obvious: you mustn't incur a single loss along the way. Going 9/1 on a ten-team parlay results in a total loss of the amount wagered, despite the fact that you handicapped a phenomenal 90% of the games correctly. The second caveat lies in the payout structure. To compensate for additional risk, the vigorish (‘vig') charged by Vegas casinos and online sports books is higher on parlay bets than straight bets. For these reasons, I recommend betting parlays recreationally or, for those who believe in getting on a rush, when you feel lucky.
To cash a parlay bet, the bettor must pick the winner in each game contested.
Let's work through a two-team parlay example: you have analyzed the opening day games for the 2009 NFL season and come up with two surefire plays: the Broncos receiving 3.5 from the Bengals, and the 49ers getting 6.5 from the Cardinals. Both games kick off at 4:15 EST. Let's say you want to limit your total loss for the day to $100. Well, you could bet $50 on each game (to win $45.45 on each straight wager), or you could make a $100 parlay bet. Bear in mind I simplified the matter be using half-point lines to avoid the possibility of a tie. In parlay betting, since all teams must win, when a tie occurs the number of teams played reverts to the next lower number of games for the payoff. For example, a five-teamer with four wins and a tie is paid off at 10/1 (the typical payout for a four-team parlay). Similarly, a tie and a win on a two team parlay would result in a straight bet win being paid at 90% of the original wager.
Minimize bad beats
Fortunately, we live in the days of advanced technology, so all these numbers come flying out of computers in nanoseconds. When I place my parlay bets at an online sports book, before typing 'Yes' to confirm my wager. I always review my proposed action to make sure I have placed the bet properly.
I mentioned the heartbreak of going 9/1 and having to stare at a losing ticket. Well, some online sports books have taken steps to remedy these bad beats. Realizing players want to be rewarded for such stellar capping, they have created an additional payout structure - one that allows a miss or even three losses on ten-team parlays (or greater). Of course, that increased margin means a reduced payoff if you win all your games. Think of it as buying insurance against bad zebra calls or untimely fumbles in close games.
So far, we've been talking about 'off the board' parlays. However, one of the most popular wagering forms is a parlay card. They've been around for more than 70 years and are very popular because people want to make bets, and card distributors can avoid severe risk because the vigorish on parlay cards is invariably set at sucker levels. For example, the probability of flipping five straight tails, or selecting five -winning teams (using accurate spreads) is 31/1. However, some parlay cards have payouts of a mere 16/1 on a five-team play.
If you've been at Las Vegas casinos during football or basketball seasons, you'll have observed parlay cards everywhere (not just at the sports books). Casinos are clever to prioritize these little devils: the hold in Vegas on all parlay card action is roughly 33%.
So why would a smart bettor ever play a parlay card? Well, casino competition has led to the 'half-point' card. As such, the bane of the Bookmaker - three-point spreads - can become the ally of the parlay card bettor. Since almost 16% of all pro games land on three as the final point differential, parlay cards become a better investment if you can use mostly three- and seven-point games (offered as 2.5, 3.5, 6.5 and 7.5 on parlay cards).
Better still, parlay cards are printed sporadically, often remaining in play for several days. During that time, off the board' spreads change, but parlay card spreads remain the same. While management reserves the right to remove games from parlay cards, they often leave the cards alone (relying on the high vigorish to ameliorate any increased risk).
The way I bet parlays is to take my top selection of the week and key it with several other selections in a bunch of three-team parlays. That way, although I must win my key game, if I do, I usually come out ahead. I should add that my parlay plays are small compared with my straight wagers.