Why parleys are sucker bets

Toni Gemayel

Writer, designer, and basketball sharp who believes life is too short to bet the under.

Are parlays smart to bet?

No, they are sucker bets.

I get it, parlays are fun - but they are also a guaranteed way to lose money.

This post isn’t for someone looking to add a little excitement to their football Sunday. Its for bettors who are interested in learning how to consistently beat the book.

The math behind parlays

When you bet a parlay, you’re grouping a set of wagers into a single bet that only pays out if all of the bets in that group win. When you’re evaluating a parlay, you should evaluate all of the bets as if they were single wagers to determine their value.

Let's say you want to bet $100 on the Tampa Bay Bucs to win the Superbowl. If you make that bet at -110 odds, you're betting $110 to win $100.

At -110 odds, that means you will need to win 52.4% of your bets to break even. As we add more legs, the target win rate drops sharply.

Number of Legs Return per unit bet Odds Target win rate
2 3.6 +260 27.7%
3 7 +600 14.3%
4 13 +1200 7.7%
5 25 +2400 4.0%
6 46 +4500 2.2%
7 81 +8000 1.2%

I know what you’re thinking.

point seven percent - so you’re saying there is a chance?

No, not really.

Let's say we live in a fair world (we don't) and you're betting $100 on a 4 leg NFL parlay. Even if we assume every game has roughly 50% chance of hitting,

if we multiply those 4 games together, that gives us a 6.3% chance of winning every leg.

.50 * .50 *.50 * .50 = .0625

That means you’re 6.3% of the time you win $1000 (with a measly 10-1 payout) and the other 93.7% of the time you lose $100.


No wonder the bookies son goes to private school.

Why books love parlays

Have you ever wondered why books are so quick to share parlay wins on social media?

It’s because bookmakers clean up on parlay bets.

On average, books win 30% of the time, as opposed to 5% of the time on a traditional, straight up wager.

The expected value on a normal parlay like the one I described is -$30.70 for every $100 wagered.

On the occasion that books do take it on the chin from a lucky parlay, they cleverly turn negative into a positive by using it as a marketing opportunity. Yet another way the house always win.

Parlays are exciting and they look like juicy bets, but Vegas sets extremely sharp lines, and over time, the book will eventually end up taking all your money.

Save your bank roll. Place individual wagers with a high degree of confidence, or find an edge elsewhere with straight bets like props, totals, etc.