What Is Tote Betting?

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The most common form of wagering on horse races worldwide is called “pari-mutuel betting.” At racecourses that offer such betting, a portion of all wagers made, usually 15~25%, is put aside for course operating expenses, purses and taxes. What remains is divided by the number of wagers made to calculate the return on each bet—the projected payoff or “odds.”

At odds of 7/2, for example, a winner gets £7 profit for every £2 wagered. Trackside, odds vary constantly as bets are made and they are recalculated instantly by the racecourse’s computer for display on a large board called the pari-mutuel machine, also known as the totalisator or totaliser.

In the U.K., the Horserace Totalisator Board is more commonly referred to as The Tote, a statutory body created by Act of Parliament in 1928. With head offices in Wigan and using the name Totesport, they are a British bookmaker that operates more than 500 high street betting shops and exclusive betting stations on 60 British racecourses. The Tote also has a presence on the Internet and runs several call centre divisions to handle wagering over the phone.

Because the Tote is the only organisation in the U.K. permitted to run pool betting on horseracing, pari-mutuel betting here is synonymous with Tote Betting. Bookmakers who offer the Tote service or accept Tote bets currently do so through syndication. This may change when privatisation of the Tote is complete; however market conditions since 2008 have caused the British government to delay such action, at least for the medium term.

The range of pooled bets offered by the Tote includes Win, Place, Exacta, Trifecta, Quadpot, Placepot, Jackpot, Scoop6 and Swinger. The first two are the most common race bets, wagering on a particular horse to come in first (Win) or to finish “in the money” (Place), which can be second, third or even fourth, depending on the number of runners in the race, as long as it is no fewer than five. In both cases, the minimum bet is £2.

A combination of Win-Place bets is called “Each Way,” allowing for a payout if the selected horse finishes in the money, regardless of running order. The betting minimum is £1 to Win and £1 to Place, for a total of £2.

The Exacta requires picking a race’s top two horses in order, while the Trifecta can only be won by choosing all three of the top runners in the correct order. Again, the minimum for each wager is £2.

The Tote Quadpot is available just once at each meeting in the U.K. Bettors choose a horse in each of four races, from the third to the sixth race on the card. They must all finish in the money according to the placing rules for a payout to be claimed. The minimum for this type of bet is just 10p.

For the Tote Placepot, a horse must be selected for each of the first six races on the card. Payouts are determined in the same way as those for the Quadpot, with a minimum wager of only 5p. Two variations on this are the Tote Jackpot and Scoop6, which require picking all six winners. The Scoop6 is offered only at fixtures on Saturdays, when television coverage is greater and bigger payouts can be made.

Tote Swinger is an exotic wager available for any race with six or more runners. The bettor must select two horses to finish first, second or third in any order. Payouts are made for various winning combination: 1st-2nd, 1st-3rd or 2nd-3rd. The betting starts at just 10p online or 50p at the racecourse.

Unlike fixed odds or starting price betting, all payout amounts on Tote bets are calculated by computer using the pari-mutuel system of allocating funds. The more winners there are, the lower the payouts; the fewer winners there are, the bigger the gains.

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