Betting on the NBA can be quite a tricky business especially if you plan to make some money in the long run. It may not be as hard as getting an NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament bracket completely and unanimously right but when we’re talking professional leagues, the unpredictability of any given regular-season NBA game is up there at the top, alongside the ever-surprisingly NFL.
That is why a good betting strategy could and should involve minimizing your costs and maximizing your profits. In other words, from a sports betting standpoint, place smaller wagers and have greater odds. Luckily, we’re not talking about impossibilities here but about a special kind of bet called a parlay.
What is an NBA Parlay Exactly?
No, not a parley for all you novices out there. We’re not pirates and you are definitely not the enemy… arrrrgh.
However, we do invite you to a ‘virtual’ discussion meant to clarify this exotic term. Don’t leave just yet if you already know what we are talking about. The more advanced topics are also in this guide… and besides, there’s always value in revisiting the basics.
So, what is a parlay? It’s basically a combo bet that consists of two or more individual wagers linked to one another. As a result, to cash in, ALL wagers must be winners. If any of them is a loser, then you lost the bet.
Let’s clear things up with an example. Three NBA games are minutes away from tip-off and you decide to bet against the spread. The Houston Rockets will beat the Oklahoma City Thunder by 5 points or more, the Boston Celtics will beat the Phoenix Suns by 9 points or more, and Portland Trail Blazers will win their encounter against the LA Clippers by a 6-point margin or more.
Obviously you can place three individual bets, $110 each to win a total of $300 as pure profit. Or you can fill in the parlay card, place a $100 wager for a whopping $650 profit. What is the catch? With the parlay, if the Thunder upsets the Rockets, yet you guessed the other two outcomes right, you lost the $100. The individual bets still get you in the profit territory even though the Rockets didn’t cover the spread: $90 profit as you won 2 out of 3 bets.
NBA Parlay Odds On Steroids
Since all your guesses must be correct, the parlay odds are significantly better compared to the classic way of sports betting. Typically, a two-pick NBA parlay has a 2.6-to-1 payout or any $100 wager gets you an extra $260. A three-pick parlay has a 6.5-to-1 payout while an 11-pick parlay has a staggering payout of 1,500-to-1 or $150,000 for any $100 wager.
You can see all the odds in the table below:
|2 Picks||2.6 to 1|
|3 Picks||6.5 to 1|
|4 Picks||13 to 1|
|5 Picks||25 to 1|
|6 Picks||50 to 1|
|7 Picks||100 to 1|
|8 Picks||180 to 1|
|9 Picks||400 to 1|
|10 Picks||825 to 1|
|11 Picks||1500 to 1|
Worth mentioning is that the odds presented above may vary depending on your sportsbook and bet types. For example, combining multiple NBA moneyline wagers in a parlay could dramatically change your odds one way or another. The moneyline payout is not fixed by any means and varies greatly depending on multiple factors such as position in the standings, last 5 or 10 games performance for both NBA teams and so on.
Before Digging Deeper: Words of Caution
Before explaining more about parlays, let’s take a step back and see the bigger picture for a moment.
The juicy odds an NBA parlay promises is only half of the story. The sportsbook will always have the better side of the deal on a long enough timeline, at least according to probability and some advanced math.
To return to our 3-pick NBA parlay example, the sportsbook gives us a 6.5 to 1 payout but is it the right payout? If we assume that each of the six teams have a 50% probability of winning the contest, then the right odds would actually be 7-to-1 to break even in the long run. For a 2-team parlay bet, the correct odds are 3-to-1. For an 11-team combo, the odds are 2,047-to-1 not just 1,500-to-1.
Yet, if we as bettors actually consider we have an edge and the teams we picked actually have a 55% chance to win, then we can make money long-term. The odds are in our favor. You can see in the table below (source: Wikipedia)
|PARLAY||50% CHANCE OF WINNING||SPORTSBOOK ODDS||55% CHANCE OF WINNING|
|2 Teams||3 to 1||2.6 to 1||2.3 to 1|
|3 Teams||7 to 1||6.5 to 1||5 to 1|
|4 Teams||15 to 1||13 to 1||9.9 to 1|
|5 Teams||31 to 1||25 to 1||18.9 to 1|
|6 Teams||63 to 1||50 to 1||35.1 to 1|
|7 Teams||127 to 1||100 to 1||64.7 to 1|
|8 Teams||255 to 1||180 to 1||118.4 to 1|
|9 Teams||511 to 1||400 to 1||216.1 to 1|
|10 Teams||1023 to 1||825 to 1||393.8 to 1|
|11 Teams||2047 to 1||1500 to 1||716.8 to 1|
A Look Into Nevada’s Accounting Numbers
One final word of caution: do not overestimate your edge!
While many of us believe we know better when it comes to sports betting, the numbers show otherwise. According to UNLV Center for Gaming Research, from 1989 to 2017, the Nevada casinos won $513.4 million from parlays alone. During 1992 and 2017, the bettors placed $1.6 billion on parlays which means the casinos cashed in over 31% from the total amount.
As a comparison, the win percentage on basketball (NBA and NCAA) since 1992 is just over 5% for the casinos and over 5.5% from sports betting overall. A big gap that tells us parlays are extremely risky and more often than losers for the bettors and extremely profitable for the sportsbooks.
NBA Parlay Betting In A Nutshell
Still with us after all these warnings? Good then! That means you’re prepared for some good old adrenalin rush correlated with NBA parlay bets. Correlated is just one type, you know… there are others, so be sure to read this part before wagering anything.
NBA Correlated Parlays
Let’s say you want to bet on the Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets game but you want to make it special. You know the Warriors are the better team but you also know the game may turn out to be a three-point shooting-fest. You can place two separate wagers one that Warriors will win and the other on the OVER (the two teams will score more than a number of points specified by the sportsbook). OR you could link the two in a parlay and win even more. If both turn to be right, congratulations, you just hit the winning shot at the buzzer.
That’s a correlated parlay: two bets from the same event aka NBA game.
Worth mentioning is that not all correlated parlays are accepted. For example, you can’t just link the following two bets: Warriors will have the lead at halftime and take the W at the end of regulations. Most correlated parlays are all about combining the winner or the spread with the OVER/UNDER.
NBA Moneyline Parlays
The most common of them all.
Because every NBA game is different, so is the moneyline. This is why the odds differ from one moneyline parlay to another and rarely will you see the same odds on two different parlays.
The strategy is straight forward: pick the winners, combine them into one single bet and some juicy odds appear in front of your eyes. As an example, let’s take an ordinary day with four NBA games: the Lakers host the Kings, the 76ers visit San Antonio, the Mavs take on the Utah Jazz, and the Bulls hosting the Pistons. You pick Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Dallas, and Detroit. The Lakers and the Mavs are favorites, however the 76ers and the Pistons are underdogs. The Spurs’ star is injured and won’t play so the 76ers have a huge chance to upset, whereas the Bulls had an awful five-game stretch that’s about to expand to six. If you wager the fourfold, you will get a whopping +1050 odds so for every $100 bet you will get an extra $1,050 IF and ONLY IF the Lakers, the 76ers, the Mavs, and the Pistons win.
If one loses, it’s game over.
NBA Progressive Parlays
This is a special type of wager on multiple events more forgiving than the harsh moneyline parlay.
Getting back to our fourfold, if the Pistons loses but the Lakers, Mavs, and 76ers win, the bettor could still win with a progressive strategy. Obviously, he or she won’t win $1,050 but more like $400, a lot less, in other words.
There are sportsbooks that offer you the chance of missing 1 out of 4 to 6 game parlay and still win (again a lot less than the initial winning odds). If you combine 7 to 9 events, the sportsbook may let you miss 2 bets, and if you combine 10 to 12, the sportsbook may forgive even 3 mistakes. It depends on your sportsbook and your bets.
Progressive parlays are particularly useful for anyone who want to place a big wager and minimize risk.
Round Robin NBA Betting Guide
For those who want to bet small and still minimize risk, there is an intriguing less-known option that involves placing multiple parlays. And the process is automatic, no need to think outside the box.
We are talking here about Round Robin bets. To understand the notion as clearly as possible, how about an example? On a fairly quiet NBA evening, six teams go head-to-head in three interesting matchups: the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Charlotte Hornets, Houston Rockets goes to Denver to face the Nuggets, while Atlanta Hawks takes a road trip to the Western Conference to face the Golden State Warriors. You decide to bet against the spread on all three events:
Charlotte Hornets -5.5 (-110)
Houston Rockets -3.5 (-110)
Golden State Warriors -11.5 (-110)
You could place a single three-team parlay and go for the long-shot 6.5-to-1 odds OR you could do a neat trick: try the Round Robin option. In this case, the sports book will automatically place three, two-team parlays for you based on your picks:
Charlotte Hornets -5.5 (-110)
Houston Rockets -3.5 (-110)
Houston Rockets -3.5 (-110)
Golden State Warriors -11.5 (-110)
Charlotte Hornets -5.5 (-110)
Golden State Warriors -11.5 (-110)
These parlays are all possible two-way combinations between your three picks. So, instead of placing a risky wager on three-linked events (remember, all outcomes MUST turn out to be correct for you to win), you can minimize risks and link only two events three times. If one outcome turns out differently you are still in profit territory with the Round Robin NBA bets: one combo is a winner (+$260) while the other two are losers (-$200) which leaves you with a $60 profit. Not a bad day for parlays right?
You can even go to the next level and, on a busy NBA night, you can use Round Robin not just with 3 picks, but with 4, 5 or even 8 picks. The trifecta Round Robin explained in the example is the simplest one. With more than 3 picks, you can also place multiple three-pick or even six-pick parlays. Just look at this table showing all possible combinations:
The table can go on and on with more and more picks but seriously now, who would want to pick 8 possible outcomes and place 28 six-pick parlays via Round Robin?
NBA Parlay Teasers and Pleasers
Getting back to our risk aversion ways, it’s time to mention two other methods to minimize risk. In fact, make it just one.
Two-team NBA Teasers
You may have the possibility given by your sportsbook to adjust the point spread in your favor. As an example, let’s take two random NBA picks:
Golden State Warriors -11.5
New York Knicks +2.5
A sports book may allow you to adjust the spread by 6 to 7.5 points if combined in a parlay. What does that mean? If you choose to adjust by 6 then you must apply the changes to both events the same way by adding 6 and improve your chances like this:
Golden State Warriors -5.5
New York Knicks +8.5
With the two-team teaser, the Warriors don’t have to win by double-digits anymore, they only have to win by 6 or more to help you cash in. The Knicks can now lose by 8 and your parlay is MONEY.
Like always, there is a catch if the sports book lets you use the teaser option. Your odds are significantly decreased and your profit is much smaller than with the standard spread.
You can use this method on more than just 2 picks but you have to add your desired point spread to ALL events. Moreover, moneyline parlays aren’t accepted in this case, only against the spread and OVER/UNDER wagers.
NBA Pleaser Bets
The pleaser is basically the opposite of the teaser. In other words, you adjust the point spread in the sportsbook’s favor maximizing your risk altogether. Taking the most recent example by ‘pleasing’ the parlay, you get:
Golden State Warriors -17.5
New York Knicks -3.5
So the Warriors must basically annihilate the opposition while the underdogs Knicks must win the game by 4 or more points to matter. Why would anyone do that? To spice up their boring winning odds. The bookies will increase the odds accordingly as the bettor ‘pleases.’
However, we do not recommend using the pleaser in any NBA parlay. Higher risks mean less chances to win and less chances to win usually lead to a banged-up sports betting bankroll.
NBA Parlay Picks And Tricks
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics and even some of the advanced topics, how about taking one step further and try to analyze the specifics more thoroughly? What makes a good NBA parlay betting strategy? How can we maximize our winning chances?
To pick one NBA event correctly is not that hard at all, it’s basically a coin flip from a math standpoint, yet to guess two or more events right is like tossing a coin and landing heads multiple times in a row. The sports books know that and offer the bettors juicy odds that may look intriguing. The numbers though as shown in our Words of Caution section are against us and favor the House.
NBA Early Season vs Mid-Season Gambling
What can we do? Have patience for starters. Don’t go all in with your bankroll early regular season. As tempting as it may be, gambling right off the bat can get you in trouble as the NBA teams aren’t in rhythm and the off-season moves – players and coaches alike – may have shook up the chemistry. It’s better to wait and see, let the teams settle and find their rhythm and start betting after a month or so at the earliest.
Early season is (most of the times) unpredictable. Take the 2017 – 2018 season for example: the Toronto Raptors started 5-4 and looked like a typical mediocre team from the East with no chance to threaten the Cavs or the Celtics. Still, they finished first in the regular season dominating the Eastern Conference. The 2016 – 2017 season is another interesting case: the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love started 9-1 showing their domination in the East. At the end of the regular season however, they were second in the standings with 31 losses. Yes, the Cavs may have been crowned Eastern Conference champs multiple times yet, in the regular season, they had their fair share of problems.
Betting the OVER/UNDER Totals in NBA
Another useful tip: watch out for the OVER/UNDER totals. These bets can be useful sometimes given two NBA teams red-hot from the three-point line or some other two that are defensive juggernauts yet bear in mind, the bookies know what you know too and will adjust the totals accordingly. These types of wagers are unpredictable and can mess up your parlay. Just remember: even one wrong pick can get you in the red territory.
Fantasy Basketball and NBA Parlay Betting
Does this mean we should only concentrate on moneyline parlays or bet against the spread? Not necessarily. You should also take advantage of the useful tools you can find everywhere on the web nowadays, even for FREE. The tools linked to the Daily Fantasy Sports or DFS industry.
If you’re wondering what fantasy basketball has to do with parlays, why don’t you take a closer look at what your sportsbook is offering you in terms of NBA Basketball betting? Besides the classic options, they will also offer OVER/UNDER in terms of individual scorers, passers, rebounders, sometimes even more – steals and blocks. Such bet could look like this:
OVER 25.5 points (-115)
UNDER 25.5 points (-105)
In other words, you can choose if James scores over or under 26 points in a game and even make a profit out of it.
Yes, these types of OVER/UNDER can be a valuable asset in your next NBA parlay. With entire sites and TV shows covering fantasy basketball every single day, you could take the information offered by the DFS industry, spin it around, and use it as an alternative to the classic OVER/UNDER totals. More options, more ways to win right?
Increasing Your NBA Betting Edge
This is only one useful way of how you can have an edge whenever you want to parlay. Remember the table from the Words of Caution section? If your parlay has a 55% chance of winning – not just 50% – then you will print money in the long run. And like in many other cases, information is power in sports gambling ultimately giving you the edge you need to turn the odds in your favor.
Be an active bettor and pay close attention to all NBA news or any other piece of information that could help you make the right choice. Fantasy basketball is just an example. Look for injury news around the league. Is LeBron James injured? Will he play through his injury? Then, there is a high chance his performance will suffer and his team will suffer as a consequence. Is Draymond Green unavailable for a certain game? Or maybe sixth-man Andre Iguodala? If that is the case, the Golden State Warriors won’t have such an easy task winning against a decent (not necessarily good) opponent. Green or Iguodala may not be big stats fillers but they do have a huge impact on the team’s play overall.
Also, look at the calendar and the teams’ schedule. The Warriors may be the top team to beat but on back-to-back nights, they may have serious problems and the underdog will have a higher chance of producing the upset. Also, the Celtics may be red-hot winning 5 of their last 6 games but if they go on a long Western road trip, expect them to struggle.
This kind of information may look like small details to some but can become a real difference between winning and losing NBA parlays. Between a successful bettor and an ‘unlucky’ one.
Best of ‘luck’ to you!
To further your knowledge within betting on the NBA take a read of our NBA Point Spread Betting Strategy Page with picks and expert advice on how to beat the sports book.