Parlays are one of the more popular exotic type bets that you will find in sports betting, and for good reason. You won’t win them often, but when you do they have huge payouts. This of course begs a very interesting question: when is it correct to use a parlay, and when should they be avoided? Here, we will quickly break down the math for you so that you can see on a better level whether using a parlay in your own bets is a profitable move, or if it is more of a needless risk.

Definition of the Parlay

First, let’s make sure we are on the same page with what a parlay actually is. A parlay is a bet involving more than one team, and in order for your bet to be considered a winner, all portions of the bet must be considered winners. Parlays are often done within a single sport, but it is possible to mix and match two or more sports within a parlay. Some sportsbooks will even allow you to use certain in-game events within a parlay, as long as there is a 50/50 outcome on what can happen.

When You Should Apply the Parlay

The best time to use a parlay is on games where the payouts are more heavily in your favor. This rules out two game parlays almost all of the time. Most sportsbooks keep two game parlays so that the payout would be the same as if you had one your first bet, and then rolled it over into your second. There is no real benefit to doing this unless the two games overlap time wise. So, if you are betting two games that start at the same time, there is a benefit to it, but most people would still be better off betting each game individually.

When you get up to three or more games, books begin to change the payouts so that they are more favorable. They’re also a lot harder to win, so this makes sense. If you are even going to consider making a parlay bet, you need to ensure that you have a better than 50 percent chance of choosing the winner in each game that you select. If you are just a 50/50 better, which is what the average fan stands at, then you are going to lose money long term using parlays. But, if you can get your edge up over 60 percent consistency, then suddenly parlays become profitable. And the beauty here is that you don’t need to worry about spreads. So, if you are betting on an NFL game, and you find three games where you believe that the favorite truly has a 14 point advantage over the underdog, placing those three bets into a parlay suddenly becomes a lot more attractive than betting the spread on each game individually. That is, assuming that the 14 point spread really is accurate. In a case like this, you would need to run your own analysis. If you look at a sample of the 297 games from 1990 to 2008 where the spread was 11.5 or more points, you would see that the spread was covered by the winning team about 45 percent of the time. That means that the favorite win by the amount that they were predicted to a little less than half of the time, but they actually won the game far more than 50 percent of the time, making this a great move long term.

Keep in mind that some sportsbooks do not start changing payouts in your favor until four games are plugged in, so check payout details before you place a bet.

Bottom Line to Parlays

If you are going to use a parlay, you should always go with more than 2 teams, and you should always choose favorites where the spread is realistically as high as possible. This will increase your odds of winning, and it will help you to use this complex tool to your advantage.