Parlay betting in the NBA (as in other sports) means combining multiple game picks into one single wager. The upsides are many, including the lack of juice, the high potential for bet-hedging, and potentially big payouts on relatively low-risk bets. The main downside is that successful parlay bettors have to pick more than one game successfully, in a market where picking just one contest the right way can sometimes seem impossible.
The appeal of parlays is easy to see – bettors who like to take a little risk in order to get a potentially big reward are everywhere. Parlays are a type of exotic wager that’s not too exotic, more thrilling than a straight-up moneyline or over/under wager, but not so thrilling that bettors are reaching for a dose of anxiety medication.
Parlays have odds based on the size of the pool of games picked and the preferences of the bookmaker a bettor buys the parlay from. Generally speaking, parlay payouts in the NBA look something like this:
2 Teams 2/1
3 Teams 6/1
4 Teams 10/1
5 Teams 27/1
6 Teams 40/1
7 Teams 75/1
8 Teams 150/1
9 Teams 300/1
10 Teams 750/1
11 Teams 1,100/1
12 Teams 1,800/1
The number next to the size of the parlay indicates the payout, so that a successful 3-team parlay pays $6 for every $1 wagered, etc.
Yes, the larger payout is due to increased risk, something that’s always the case in sports betting (or casino betting for that matter). But the biggest payouts on parlays (as much as 1,800/1 for a successful 12-team parlay bet) carry the biggest risk, and a simple 2- or 3-team parlay wager can be many times more valuable than individual bets on those two or three games.
Using our above example, a bettor could parlay the Cavs and Spurs picks into a single bet for a potential 6/1 payout. If either of the picks fails, the whole wager fails – there’s your increased risk.
Parlays can get a little more complicated when placed on multiple odds lines – bettors are able to place parlays on the moneyline, over/under, and point spread, all in the same wager. Parlays are endlessly interchangeable, which is another big part of their appeal, and the reason they can be approached somewhat strategically.
NBA Parlay Strategy Basics
The strategy most often used by successful parlay bettors is simple hedging. Hedging is an investment term that’s used by everyone from hedge fund managers and bankers to illegal numbers-runners. All hedging means is covering one’s wager in such a way that losses are minimized.
The pay outs in the table above are based solely on a line and an amount wagered, making them extremely easy to hedge. Here’s an example – players who have a 3-team parlay that includes a late night game that find themselves already 2/3 of the way to success can hedge their bet on the third game, betting fifty percent of the amount the parlay would reward. This guarantees a profit – the 3-team parlay would pay out $600 on a $100 investment, so betting $300 on the third game’s outcome in the opposite direction means winning $200 regardless of the outcome of that final game.
Hedging may not be the sexiest piece of sports betting strategy ever, but it limits risk better for parlay-style wagers than any other method, especially for players who have the bankroll to support a weekly parlay wager throughout the long NBA season.
How a Parlay Works
Parlays work like this – imagine a set of games in which the outcomes seem fairly clear to you. For whatever reason, the games available in a given day seem particularly easy for you to handicap – maybe the new-look Cavaliers are a lock at home against the Philadelphia 76ers, while San Antonio has a clear edge even on the road against the Utah Jazz.
With a parlay, the potential payout (should both picks come through) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6/1. For a $100 investment, you could make two confident picks and wait for a reward of $600, with no juice or vig to consider.
Other parlay strategies focus mostly on turning solid individual propositions into successful parlay wagers in order to chase a larger return for less risk. Using an example from above, a bettor interested in turning their Spurs and Cavs 2-team moneyline parlay into an outlay with an even larger possible reward could add a wager to form a 3-team parlay and break the bets up into their most advantageous odds formats.
It may be best to wager the point spread on San Antonio and Cleveland (as they are clear favorites), but the addition of an underdog moneyline bet to form a 3-team parlay means much larger potential profits with the flexibility of the parlay to cover multiple lines.
Using a 3-team parlay that includes both moneyline and point spread odds makes sense in this case – rather than placing three distinct wagers (two point spreads, one moneyline), the better wins a substantially larger payout from a 3-team parlay than from three straight-up wagers. Because there’s no juice, this single bet costs much less than the three individual bets. Using a 3-team parlay also opens up opportunities for hedging, as described above.
Parlays are not new to the NBA, and they are not yet as popular a way to place NBA bets as straight-up wagers. For advanced NBA bettors who like a little more reward (and occasionally a little more risk overall) the parlay bet is the perfect transition from traditional to exotic wagers.