For newcomers to betting on horse racing, the go-to standard is to open a bookmaker account and use their fixed odds offering to place your win and each way flutters.
For many, the possibility of using the Tote and the various bet types available doesn’t even cross their mind, and yet it’s possible that you could be leaving money on the table by taking the bookies’ prices as opposed to diving into the Totepool.
So should you be betting on horse racing using fixed odds or the Tote? Let’s see if we can draw up some concrete answers.
What is the Tote?
You probably know how fixed odds betting works by now. The bookmakers analyse a race, assign odds based on the win probabilities of each horse on the card before building in their margin or ‘overround’ to help them balance their book – sort of like the house’s edge at a casino.
The Tote, meanwhile, is more like a lottery. Punters pick out their horses (there are different coupons and bet types available) and feed their stake into the total prize pot. This is then divvied out to those with winning betslips.
The Tote was, once upon a time, very popular before punters seemed to turn their back on pool betting for a while.
However, the venture was taken over by firm Britbet in 2019, and they have helped to reinvigorate interest in the Tote – schemes like the World Pool, a global initiative to increase the amount of bets (and thus prize money) placed helping with that.
The Totepool and fixed odds are two very different ways to bet, with often wildly different payouts into the bargain.
How Does the Totepool Work?
The Totepool still has odds for each horse, which act as the basis for your bets, and it’s the price you take and the amount you stake that ultimately determine your payout with the Tote – it’s very similar to fixed odds betting in that regard.
The key is that your return is based upon the overall pool size and how many winning tickets there are, with your payout calculated as a proportion of the prize fund.
Let’s say that you’ve back Three-Legged Wonder with the Tote in the 14:00 at Haydock. There’s £10,000 in the pool and £1,000 of that has been bet on your horse. The calculation is 10,000 divided by 1,000, which leaves a winner’s dividend of £10. This is then multiplied by your stake to work out your full return, so if you had wagered £5 for instance then you would be paid £50.
Whether that would be a ‘better’ return than provided by fixed odds would depend upon the price offered by the bookmakers, of course. And because you don’t know the make-up of a Tote pool in advance, knowing which will pay out better is not always an exact science.
Tote vs SP Odds
You’d need a dataset of thousands of races before you could draw any conclusions as to whether the Tote pays better than the SP more often than not.
Even then it wouldn’t necessarily mean that’s the best way to wager on the races you are interested in.
But to offer some context, here are the first six winners from a card at the Punchestown Festival.
You can see the winner, their SP payout and their Tote dividend side-by-side:
|Horse||SP Win||Tote Win|
|A Dream to Share||£1.55||£1.53|
Whether it’s a few pennies or pounds, you can see that the SP typically paid out at a higher rate than the Tote in the win market.
There’s a caveat: these races were won either by the favourite or a fancied horse, so there would have been more winning Tote tickets and, therefore, payouts would have been lower. Where an outsider prevails, there’s generally fewer winning Tote players – meaning that your dividend is greater.
Here’s another interesting titbit to consider. The Tote have launched their ‘Tote Guarantee’ promotion, which matches the SP when your pool payout is lower. However, if the Tote prize is greater than the SP, you’ll still get to keep the higher amount.
You should note that the Tote Guarantee isn’t available for every race/meeting, but when it is there’s certainly an advantage to be had in considering pool betting over fixed odds.
Other Tote Bets
If you want to wager in a win only or each way fashion, you’ll typically get a better return from the SP than you would the Tote – assuming the previously mentioned offer isn’t in play.
But that’s not the only pool bet that you can place, and there are examples of where playing the Tote is beneficial. We’ve showcased how the Tote’s Exacta bet is often the better option over fixed odds forecasts here.
Some punters enjoy the thrill of trying to pick the 1-2-3 in a race in the correct order. This is known as a tricast in fixed odds betting and a trifecta with the Tote.
So which is best? Let’s head back to that Punchestown Festival card for an insight:
- Race 1 – Tricast = £1,389.97, Trifecta = £1799.28
- Race 2 – Tricast = £75.17, Trifecta = £102.18
- Race 3 – Tricast = £33.59, Trifecta = £47.95
- Race 4 – Tricast = £189.22, Trifecta = £125.23
- Race 5 – Tricast = £53.37, Trifecta = £67.03
- Race 6 – Tricast = £1,389.97, Trifecta = £1,893.42
Once again, the Tote trounces fixed odds betting when it comes to having a punt on the perfect 1-2-3.
So which is best: fixed odds or Tote betting?
The answer, quite simply, depends on the type of bet you wish to place.