How tote betting works
Pool betting is the oldest form of sports betting. Someone gathers everyone’s stakes into a pool, and the pool is divvied up among the winners. In official betting, the job of administering a pool is undertaken by a tote, which collects the bets and pays them out in return for a fee, which is deducted from the betting pool.
Pool betting differs from fixed odds betting in two main ways:
- the payouts for winning bets depend on the size of the pool and the number of winners
- the odds for each selection continue to change after you place a bet, based on betting activity in the pool.
The result is that, unlike in fixed odds betting, you don’t know how much you stand to win when you place a bet. Generally winners are paid out according to the odds as they stand at the start of an event.
Traditionally pool betting is associated with horse racing, but football pool betting is now also massively popular.
Example of a pool bet
Say you stake £10 on a horse you favour winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. When you place your bet, the odds on the horse reflect the total amount in the pool for the race divided by the combined stake on the horse. This in turn reflects the total payout you could earn per pound wagered on the race. The odds will continue to change from the time you place your bet up to the start of the race, based on betting activity in the pool.
Let’s say a total of £50,000 in bets is placed on the horse you’ve backed winning the Gold Cup. In total, £150,000 is placed on all other entries in the field. This means that at the time the race starts, the odds for your selection are effectively 3/1 (calculated as $150,000/$50,000).
If the horse you’ve backed wins the Gold Cup, your stake of £10 will be returned and you’ll win £30 (given the odds of 3/1). If the horse loses, you’ll forfeit your stake and the money in the pool will be distributed to punters holding winning tickets.
Tote betting in the UK
Despite the increased popularity of fixed odds and lay betting online, tote betting remains huge in the UK – and betting pools on major horseraces and football pools routinely generate staggering wins.
In Britain, pool betting is dominated by the Tote, originally known as the Horserace Totalisator Board. From 1928 onwards, the Tote was owned and run by the UK Government. In July 2011, however, it was sold to Betfred. The Tote's sports betting brand, Totesport, has over 500 high street betting shops and outlets at almost all UK racecourses.
The Tote remains the only organisation in the UK permitted to offer pool betting on horseracing.
Where to place tote or pool bets
Several of the largest UK bookmakers offer a tote betting service through syndication. Among these are:
Types of tote/pool bets
In the UK, the Tote (and other bookmakers who provide a tote service) offer the following types of tote bets:
- Tote Win – pick a race winner
- Tote Place – pick a horse that will place (in a race with 5 to 7 runners, this involves coming first or second; with 8 or more runners, three places are paid; and in handicaps with 16 or more runners, four places are paid)
- Tote Each Way – pick a horse to win or place (this combines Tote Win and Tote Place bets)
- Tote Exacta – pick the two horses to place first and second, in the correct order
- Tote Pick Six – select the winners of races 1 to 6 at a particular meeting
- Tote Scoop6 – select winners from six nominated races, with a dividend for selecting six placed horses; the Scoop6 is held every Saturday and is widely televised
- UK Quadpot – pick horses to place in four specified races (typically races 3 to 6); the Quadpot is held daily at all British meetings
- UK Jackpot – at any UK race meeting, pick the winner of races 1 to 6; held every day except Saturday, when it’s replaced by the Scoop6
- Tote Trifecta – select the horses that will come first, second and third in a race, in the correct order
- Tote UK Swinger – pick two horses to finish first, second or third, in any order.
Minimum stakes for tote bets
The minimum stake for the Tote Win, Tote Place, Tote Exacta and Tote Scoop6 is £2. The minimum stake for the Tote Each Way (which effectively involves two bets – a Win and Place) is £4. The minimum stake for the Tote Trifecta, Tote Quadpot, Tote Placepot and Tote Jackpot is £1.
Why participate in tote betting?
Pool betting provides an entertaining and potentially lucrative alternative to fixed odds betting because it allows punters to bet against one another, rather than against bookmakers. This gives experienced punters the opportunity to capitalize on individuals placing uninformed bets, or “dead money”, into betting pools.
You can place tote bets with stakes as small as £1 to £2, and in the UK, all tote betting is subject to the same regulations. As a result, you can place bets without assuming too much risk. Tote betting can also be particularly lucrative when it comes to paying out on multiples. Several thousand punters betting on the winners of a series of races at a meeting can generate truly gargantuan pools, which tend to be shared among only a handful of winning tickets.