# Betting on a horse race: If I place a bet at 100:1 and at race time the odds are 10:1 do I get a 100:1 payout or the 10:1 payout?

Title says it all.

I know odds can fluctuate before a horse race. If, for some reason, everyone starts betting on one horse the odds go down. My question is, if I placed the bet earlier at higher odds do I get that higher payout or is my payout set to the final odds when the race starts?

You get the final odds. That’s how a parimutuel system works: the odds fluctuate as bettors play various horses; and what the odds are when the starting gate opens, are what you get.

It is possible to “lock in” odds if you’re betting with a bookie, but if you bet at a track or race book in North America, you’ll be betting through the parimutuel system.

Unless you’re betting with a bookie or a friend or something like that, you’re not placing a bet of \$X on horse Y at Z:1 odds, you’re simply placing a bet on horse Y. Whether the bet is at the track or another location like an OTB or a race book in Las Vegas, the money is put into a pool, an amount is skimmed off to pay the track and all those OTBs, and the remainder divided among everyone who bet on that horse.

The odds that show on the toteboard are the current odds and are subject to change – that’s why they blink every 30 seconds or so. You see your horse Y is 100:1 a half hour before the race, think that’s great, and plunk down a bet. Five minutes before the race some fat cat comes along and drops a couple hundred thousand bucks on Y. There are a lot more people to pay out to now and Y’s odds drop to 5:1. Tough knuckes to you; you don’t get to take your bet back because you don’t like the new odds.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parimutuel_betting

So, it is not in anyone’s interest to place a bet early it seems.

Wait until a minute to two before race time and make your choice.

Is that a better betting strategy?

Well, generally, but there is a huge crush at the windows then, and you might not get your bet in.

Yes, but then you risk the chance of being shut out. The tote will not accept any more wagers once the starting gate opens. And given lineups at the windows and autototes, it is entirely possible to be shut out if you wait until one minute to post.

Most horseplayers I know (myself included), will wait until the post parade to wager. We’ve analyzed the Racing Form’s numbers, now we want to see the horses. Are they calm and ready? Are they acting up, like they really don’t want to run today? Once seen, it’s time to make a few last-minute adjustments to our wagers; typically with seven to nine minutes to go. Plenty of time to wager, with little to no danger of being shut out.

That’s also why the tote will change drastically in the last ten minutes–because knowledgeable horseplayers will wait until after the post parade to wager. That 5:1 may suddenly become a 2:1, and that 3:1 might become 7:1. Regardless, the final odds are set once the starting gate opens, and that’s what you’ll get.

For this reason, overseas most serious gamblers bet with bookmakers and only rarely use the tote. There are dozens of online bookmakers available in Australia. When betting with them you receive the odds at which you placed the bet. Many have offers such as “Top Fluctuation” where you receive the best price that was available during betting.

Is there some trick to this? The math here is not something I am going to work out at this time on a Sunday morning but it doesn’t seem workable.

Take an extreme:

Ten people have bet \$100 on various horses and then bettor #11 bets \$1 million on the 100:1 longshot. How can they pay that out?

Just don’t ask these questions at the window right before post time…

Does that longshot win? Because a bet like that would drive down the odds on the longshot to 1:20, which is the lowest they can legally go. And this is a parimutuel system, so we’re looking at ratios of money bet on one horse against money bet on all other horses.

In any event, if the longshot wins, the track is legally obligated to pay 5c to \$1 (assuming nickel breakage), so the longshot player wins \$50,000, plus his bet back. It likely results in what’s known as a negative pool, where the track has to dip into its own funds in order to pay off the winner. And tracks typically have a lot in reserve, for just such occasions, though they hope it never happens.

What would more likely happen in your example is that the mutuel teller (the person behind the betting window) would have to get authorization to book a bet that large. Given that we have \$1000 in the pool from the other bettors (in your example), that authorization might come, but be limited to a \$1000 wager. Or perhaps \$2000 to \$5000 if the track is willing to risk a negative pool, given that this is a longshot and other horses are more likely to win.

My source is a friend, who had a serious horse race gambling problem. He bet at a big track, where daily handles (even on weekdays) regularly exceeded \$1M on the day, but when he tried to place even a \$1000 wager, the mutuel teller would have to get authorization to book it. There are minimums in horse racing, but there are also informal maximums, depending on the track, its funds, the race, and the horse.

Aside: My friend got help, and has not gambled on anything (horses, dice, cards) since. Unless you want to count he and I betting on CFL football, and what’s on the line is our bar tabs at even money at the sports bar. It’s fun, and it’s a lot less of a loss for him than \$1000 a race at Woodbine.

I’m no betting man but in the UK the default has been fixed odds in every case where I’ve laid a bet. i.e. the price at the time the bet is made.

You can specifiy it to pay out on the starting price (SP) if you wish or even get a “best odds” guarantee where you lock-in the odds at time of bet but if the SP changes to be in your favour you get that instead.

The whole point of the parimutuel system is to reduce the temptation to cheat. Back in the day, before tattoos microchipping and DNA panels made identifying horses a snap, occasionally a ringer with better odds of winning than the original would be substituted and the conspirators would put big money on it. The bookies or track, unaware of the change, would offer long odds and lose big when the ringer came in.

With the parimutuel system the large amount dropped automatically drops the odds to make the scam unattractive. As has been pointed out, a negative pool is an unhappy situation for the track* and it will take steps to avoid it. If, for example, a horse is expected to be a heavy favorite, you can bet either for it to win and the rest of them all pooled together in a field bet.

Way back in the day when OTBs and betting at remote tracks was first allowed, each kept their own pools and pay out the odds of the hosting track, which could sometimes lead to problems if their pool’s betting pattern did not match. Thanks to technology, all of the money collected is now put into one common pool and instead of going against local experts, you’re competing bettors around the country, or even world.

This has changed the game. In the US, at least, it is now extremely difficult to make a living with “straight” – win, place, and show – betting which is why exotics are so popular here.

*Doubly so because typically half of the take is sent to the state or other government body as a tax and they still get their cut even with a negative pool.

I thought it was to reduce the risk for the track - which includes the risk of cheating as well as the risks of bad luck (some eccentric betting a lot on a long shot that wins).

100:1? And I had just finished listening to the radio production of the Damon Runyon story “All Horse Players…”.

(Bettor can’t wait to get to the window, and bets with a bookie at 100:1.)

No. You are better off betting on the horse/dog you think is going to come in first, second, or third depending on what type of bet you choose to make. Or fourth if you’re betting on a Superfecta.

If you’re betting just based on the odds you will usually not come out ahead at the end of the card. Do your calculations on each entrant and make your bet. Lower odds will affect your payout but if you win your bet you are still ahead.

I used to bet on horses (in the UK). There was a betting shop on every high street and the owner would keep a running total of what he could lose. If it was more risk than he wanted to take, he would “lay off” the book to one of the nationals like Ladbrooks. This would mitigate any loss, but also eat the profit.

That is a common misconception. The point of handicapping is not to pick “the winner.” The favorite in a race wins about one time in three while thanks to the rake-off, pays only 2:1. What a professional gambler is looking for is a horse that has better odd of winning than the other bettors give it credit for, an “undervalued” horse. For this reason they will frequently lay off a lot of races, betting on perhaps a third of the card. Someone who lays a bet down on every race is doing it for the thrills, not to make money.

Andy Beyer has said, “Handicapping is the world’s hardest way to make an easy living.”

The answers given here surprised me. In the UK and Ireland if you bet on a horse at 100:1, the odds will be written on your betting slip and will be locked in regardless of whether the odds subsequently shorten.

The only exception is if you are physically at the racetrack and place your bet at the tote, in which case you’ll get the same odds as everyone else (but you can still choose to place your bet with the bookies at the racetrack, and choose the bookie that’s offering the best odds at a given moment).

This is exactly what I was saying. Which is why I mentioned win, place, and show. Or Superfecta if one is using a wheel bet.

The point is to make money on your bet. You don’t have to pick the “winner” to do that.

Do they use the paramutual system? If so how can they possible lock in odds without the track occasionally losing money?