Parlay bets involve betting on a variety of games/events on one ticket, with the wager only paying out if all outcomes are predicted correctly.  Of course, because every outcome must be correct the potential payout is much larger with one parlay bet than with each of the outcomes wagered on individually.

You can also look at parlay bets as individual bets where you are wagering your total payout from the previous leg on the subsequent leg, and so on until the entire ticket is complete.

Calculating Parlay Bet Payouts

Parlay bet payouts are calculated by multiplying the decimal odds for each individual outcome together and then multiplying that number by the wager amount.  The easiest way to show this is through an example:

Say you have these odds for three NFL teams to win their games outright:

Indianapolis Colts -185 (1.54)
New York Giants -210 (1.48)
Las Vegas Raiders +280 (3.80)

To calculate the parlay odds you simply multiply the three individual decimal odds together (1.54 x 1.48 x 3.80) to get 8.66.  That is now your parlay odds and to find the payout you multiply that number by the wager amount.  So say you are betting $20 on this parlay you would receive a payout of $173.22 if each of those three NFL teams won their games.

Another Way To Look at a Parlay Bet

A $20 bet on the Colts at odds of 1.54 would payout $30.80 if they won their game. That $30.80 then bet on the Giants at odds of 1.48 would payout $45.58. If the Giants win and you bet that $45.58 on the Raiders at odds of 3.80 the payout would be $173.22.

As you can see a parlay bet is simply continuing to re-bet your payout on subsequent legs of the parlay.

Parlay Bet Pushes

It is possible to push bets on your parlay bet ticket.  For example, if you were betting on the Colts to cover a 4 point spread instead of winning outright then there would be the potential for a push if the Colts won by exactly 4.  If this happens the pushed outcome is removed from the parlay bet and you are left with the remaining outcomes.  So if you had the other two teams at the moneyline you would be left with (1.48 x 3.80) 5.62 odds and a payout of $112.48 if both the Giants and Raiders won.

When To Use Parlay Bets

Most bettors like to use parlay bets when wagering on favorites because it gives them the chance of winning a decent amount of money.  Picking 4 individual bets at -600 (1.167) odds will give you peanuts from each bet, but if you put them all together on one parlay ticket, you will at least almost double your money if each team wins (odds of 1.85).

That being said, in general it is a smarter long term strategy to place single bets on games you are very confident in.  The reason that parlay bets aren’t great for this is because you will be hard pressed to find enough games that are +EV to include on your parlay ticket, which can result in you adding some -EV games, which will drive down your profits over the long run.