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Do you know how to read the toteboard?
It is amazing how many people make bets without understanding the toteboard and the information it provides. While the toteboard may seem imposing, it is actually pretty easy to learn how to read it. Once you understand it, you will be able to make decisions and place better bets.
The most basic information on the board is the win odds listed for each horse. That doesn't tell you what the horse will pay if he wins, but the amount of profit you will get and the amount you have to bet to get it. Odds of 6-5 mean that you will get $6 profit for every $5 wagered. Odds of 20-1 mean you get $20 profit for every $1 wagered, so if you bet $2 you will get $42 back. Since most racetracks have a $2 minimum bet, below is a handy chart look up the payoff for a $2 bet placed at various odds. Remember, your actual payoff may differ from this chart as the odds on the toteboard are rounded off, so 2-1 odds displayed on the toteboard may actually be 1.9-1 or 2.2-1. Payoffs use the actual odds and are rounded down to the nearest nickel or dime depending on the rules at that racetrack. This rounding is called breakage which can be a complex topic for beginners. Those who want to know more about breakage should read this article.
If you want to calculate the exact win odds on a horse using the information from the toteboard, you will need to use a couple of other figures it provides: total win pool and the amount bet on that horse. The total pool is all the money bet on all the horses to win, but it is NOT the amount that will actually be paid out to the holders of winning tickets.
Before the racetrack pays off the winners, they deduct the "take" which is generally between 14%-20% and is different for every state. You can look up the take at your track here. This money goes to pay state and local taxes, purses for the horsemen, expenses at the track, and the racetrack's profit.
To calculate the exact odds on your horse, just subtract the take from the total pool then subtract the amount bet on your horse to give you the amount of cash to be paid out. Divide that figure by the amount bet on your horse to get the exact odds. This figure will always be rounded off to the nearest dime (usually) or nickel, breakage as mentioned above, before the payoffs are calculated. Here is a simple example of win odds calculation:
Total pool: $900
Amount bet on horse #1: $300
Take amount: 15%
$900 - 15% = $765
$765 - $300 = $465
$465 / $300 = $1.55
Round this off to $1.50 for breakage and you get odds of 1.5-1 or 3-2 as it would normally be written which yields a payoff of $5.00 on a $2.00 wager.
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