In sports betting, a parlay (also known as an accumulator) is a wager that combines multiple individual wagers into a single bet and requires all those wagers are successful for the single bet to win. If at least one selection is incorrect the entire wager is a loss. If all are correct a payout is issued for the accumulated odds. In this article I’ll discuss parlay (accumulator) betting in great depth including their dynamics, warnings about short pays, who offers the best odds, and then conclude with parlay betting strategy.
How Parlay Odds are Calculated
The vast majority of internet betting sites offer true odds parlays. There are exceptions, primarily with US friendly betting sites offering fixed odds that short the payout, and a couple sites that offer promotions that make the odds better. I’ll cover these but first I’ll explain how parlays are calculated using true odds.
True odds does not mean “actual true odds” but it means the parlays pay the same amount regardless if a bettor used a parlay/accumulator or straight bets. Take for example US sports such as basketball and football where both point spread bets and total bets are 50/50 propositions offered at risk $11 to win $10. If you simply rolled your full return forward this is how it would look.
Bet1: $11 to win $10 – if win you have $21 ($11 stake + $10 win).
Bet2: $21 to win $19.09 – if win you have $40.09
Bet3: $40.09 to win $36.45 – if win you have $76.54
Bet4: $76.54 to win $69.58 –if win you have $146.12
Bet5: $146.12 to win $132.84 –if win you have $278.96
Bet6: $278.96 to win $253.60 – if win you have $532.56
To recap, you have now turned $11 into $532.56 of which $11 was your stake and $521.56 was you profit. This is 47.41 to 1 as $521.56/$11=47.41. The shorter method is to simply multiply the European odds (if you’re not familiar with this format use our odds converter). Point spread bets use -110 American which in European odds format is 1.9091. For a six team parlay (6-fold accumulator) at the same odds use: 1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.9091*1.9091=48.41, of which 1 is the stake and 47.41 is the win, so again we get the same 47.41 to 1.
Hedging Parlay Bets
There are many novice bettors that fail to understand the dynamics of parlays as just explained. A common scenario they face is having won 5 of 6 bets they decide to hedge for guaranteed profit. Using the same parlay as above, with one game to go they hold a ticket that cost $11 and will return $532 if the last pick is successful. To lock in profit they bet $279 to win $253 on the other team. Notice $279+$253 equals the same $532. No matter which team wins they are now paid $532 and they staked $11 on the first bet + $279 on the second =$290. This gives a guaranteed $242 profit no matter which team wins.
If you’ve paid attention, you can probably now understand how poor of a strategy it is to add an additional team to a parlay and then hedge the opposite side if all other selections win. With an $11 stake, a 5-team parlay pays $279. With a 6-team parlay where you hedge back the other side after winning 5 games this pays only $242. This is a mistake novice bettors make over and over again; on virtually every sports betting forum “should I hedge?” threads appear weekly. If you are going to hedge when it gets down to the final game, avoid adding a bet from this final game to the parlay in the first place and you’ll have a higher payout.
Fixed Odds Parlays
Another thing to be aware of is the fact Las Vegas sportsbooks as well as many US betting sites have a near scam called “fixed odds parlays”. This most often means their parlays pay less than what a true odds parlay would. For example at BetOnline.ag this same 6-team parlay (accumulator) pays only 45-to-1, at Topbet 40-1, at Justbet 35-1. All of these options are highway robbery! True odds for 6-team parlays, as just explained, are 47.41 to 1.
Where to Bet Parlays Online
For reasons I just mentioned you’ll want to avoid betting sites such as BetOnline, Topbet, and Justbet when making parlay wagers as these sites majorly short the payouts. The websites below all accept United States residents and all offer true odds (meaning 6-teamers will actually pay 47.41 to 1). Honestly, betting parlays anywhere offering fixed odds short pays is a massive mistake.
The best deal going on the above comes from www.5dimes.eu. If you enjoy betting parlays, upon joining their website contact live chat and request your account is switched to reward package #4 – 30% Super Saver Reward. This will give you -107 reduced juice on your parlays. To illustrate the value of this I’ve put together a comparison chart where the first column reflects the promo odds for those on 5Dimes package #4.
Notice some of the odds offered on this chart are near criminal. For example, Justbet.cx paying 80/1 on an 8-teamer – this is charging bettors -137 (risk $1.37 to win $1.00) on a 50/50 point spread most sites charge -110 for. BetOnline paying 3000/1 on a 15 teamer is them charging -142 for a point spread bet. The effects of this huge markup are shown on the parlay payouts table just supplied. This is clearly designed to take advantage of novice sports bettors who do not know any better.
Back on the topic of 5Dimes, they allow an unlimited number of open spots. This means you can open a parlay bet, make selections, and then designated the parlay be a higher number of teams than the number of selections made. The remaining are left open and you can return to the ticket later to make more selections ongoing. If you are wondering about the advantage of this, it is a tool that can be used to increase maximum betting limits. 5Dimes also has very friendly terms for rolling if bets. That article I just linked to is likely of great interest to parlay bettors. You can find all sorts of other combo wager options there too such as teasers, action reverse, pleasers, and even progressive wagers.
Bet365 Offers Even Better Odds
www.bet365.com(no US players) offers accumulator promos. Understand accumulator is the European term for parlay, both have the same meaning. This first promotion is for American sports NFL, NCAAF, CFL, NBA, NCAAB, MLB and NHL. It applies to point spread, run line, puck line, game totals, 1st and 2nd half point spread, 1st and 2nd half totals and money lines (excluding MLB).
The promotion is an accumulator bonus of 5% for doubles, 7.5% for trebles, 10% for 4-folds, and then 5% additional for each fold up to a 50% bonus for 12-fold accumulators. The chart underneath this paragraph shows when betting point spreads priced -110 you are getting even better value than the -107 per team odds 5Dimes offers. Here you can get point spreads at -106 to -103 per team. They have accumulator promos for soccer too. If you live outside the US be sure to check their website.
Table showing the value of betting accumulators at Bet365 due to the reduced juice on offer
Parlay Betting Strategy
Parlays have a use for professional bettors. They can sometimes be used to circumvent maximum bet limits and also can be part of Kelly bet sizing. However, the way most bettors use them is not about bankroll management but rather violating every risk of ruin and optimal growth strategy known to man.
Imagine visiting a casino betting $25 on blackjack win and bet $50; win and bet $100; win and bet $200; win and bet $400, win and bet $800. That is the exact same thing as betting a $25 six team parlay; it just feels different. If you’re a recreational bettor just looking to gamble it up with a chance for a large payout relative to stake, then most of the strategy used is already covered. If you’re in the US use www.5dimes.eu, if you’re outside the US use www.bet365.com and you’re assured the best odds possible.
There are however times where optimal strategy does call for a parlay. The two examples I’ll conclude this article covering are betting with free play credits and making correlated wagers.
Using Parlays with Free Plays
Online sportsbooks offer players two unique types of bonuses. The first bonus offer is cash, the second is known as a free play. When you bet $110 to win $100 with cash and win your return is $210 ($110 stake + $100 win). Making the exact same wager using free play credits you are returned only $100. This is because the $110 stake was a free play and win or lose this free play got used up. Not getting the stake back is the fundamental difference between a cash bonus and a free play bonus.
Remember that the dynamics of a parlay are simply rolling your stake forward. To illustrate why using free plays for parlays is better than straight bets let me go back to the earlier parlay wager and add some notes.
Bet1: $11 to win $10
Bet2: $21 to win $19.09 (a second time.)
Bet3: $40.09 to win $36.45 (a third time.)
Remember when betting straight, win or lose you do not get that stake back. When betting a parlay you essentially do get the stake back and then are wagering it again. If you bet in three team parlays you’re getting to use it 3 times. Also in my article on round robin betting I showed how this can be used to convert free plays to cash at 75% the size of their face value guaranteed.
Imagine if a betting site offered the wagers “will it be cloudy today?” and, “will it rain today?”. Here’s a situation where parlaying the two would have massive value. If it is cloudy, it is far more likely it rains. If the skies are clear, it is far more likely there is no rain. The same situations can be found in sports betting but these come with a very strong warning.
Many years ago when bookies that were not too bright first started popping up offshore it was possible to make wagers on college football such as first half Nebraska -21.5 and first half over 24.5 in the same parlay. That specific wager obviously has a huge correlation and online betting sites no longer offer such wagers. However what you still might find available on occasion is something like 49ers -8.5 over 39. Here the correlation is far less than in the previous example, but there still is a correlation no doubt.
Do understand that many betting sites have scammed players with a gotcha parlay rule. If you Google search topics such as sportsbook.com parlay theft, or WagerWeb thefts against trixtrix you’ll learn of shady online sportsbooks going back through the wager history and confiscating balances for reasons they consider correlated parlays cheating. These websites had taken these same bets for a decade and then enforced new ad-hoc betting rules to confiscate funds from non-idiot punters.
The good news is not all online sportsbooks are shady. The three sites I linked to in this article 5Dimes, Bookmaker and Bovada operate on the concept, book a bet / pay a bet. Each website’s software blocks parlays when they feel the two selections are too highly correlated. If their software does not block the parlay then this means it is fair game. If confirmed, and you win, you will get paid.
I recall the 2013 NFL season Week 13 Monday Night Game New York Giants -3 at Washington Redskins +3 with a betting total of 51. Certainly there’s no correlation here to the extent that betting sites would even consider blocking parlays on the game/total. However handicapping this game was quite awkward. The offense’s strengths were the defense’s weakness, and the defense’s strengths were the offense’s weakness on both sides of the ball.
It seemed if Redskins ran with play action, and Giants just tossed the ball down the field this game would score a lot of points. However that strategy was so predictable this was a game I expected the coaches needed to get creative as what the defenses would sell out for was obvious. I eventually concluded betting the Redskins makes the most sense, however if the Redskins win it is more likely because the game was not the shootout it was expected to be. Here I bet the Redskins moneyline with under 51 in a parlay.
There are other strategies where correlated wagers will not be blocked. Take for an example the final weekend of an NFL season. If there is a team playing Sunday night who will be eliminated from the playoffs if another team playing in the afternoon wins, here correlated parlay options are available. Bet that the afternoon team will lose and the night team will win, or reverse these and do vice versa depending which options you like.
I’ll conclude this article by saying betting correlated parlays is truly the holy grail of sports betting. Before placing bets on a point spread, stop and think. Does the reason I’m making this wager affect the total? When betting a total think: does the reason I am betting this affect the point spread? If the answer is yes, then you might consider if there is enough added value on the parlay over the straight bet. All this said, I have nothing left to share on this topic, so I’ll leave it by saying that no matter what your strategy is, on behalf of everyone here at Intense Gambling we wish you luck with all your bets.