Tote Betting Explained

What Does Tote Mean in Betting?

Sports betting comes in different forms, some unique to certain sports. Today, Tote betting is one of the most popular ways to bet on horse racing. It is a pool wagering system that offers a chance to win bigger payouts. Due to its unconventional nature, many punters, especially beginners, can find this betting form confusing.

Therefore, this guide explores everything a punter must know about Tote betting, weighing in on the following areas:

  • The basics of placing a Tote bet
  • Types of Tote bets
  • How you can bet on the Tote with calculations
  • Where you can bet on the Tote
  • Origins of Tote betting

Placing a Bet on the Tote: The Basics

As mentioned, Tote betting is a popular form of horse racing wagering enjoyed by loads of punters worldwide. The biggest reason for its popularity is its community-driven nature, which can create more considerable prize pools. With this form of wagering, you can easily win a bigger payout than what you get from regular bookmakers with fixed odds betting.

Tote system betting is undeniably more prevalent in horse racing, as its origin traces back to the sport. However, it has also expanded to a few other sports and events. So, punters may find other sports and events where this betting style is also available, like greyhound racing, football, rugby, cricket, and others. 

That said, let’s delve into the Tote betting meaning and rules.

What is the Tote?

Tote betting, also known as pari-mutuel betting, involves pooling all bets on a race or event into a pot, which is later shared among the winners. The Tote essentially works similarly to the lottery — a bettor picks the horses they want to back and puts their desired wager amount into a cumulative pool. After the race, everyone with a winning ticket will get a percentage of the total prize pool. However, the payout amount each will get will depend on their bet size and that of others.

One notable fact is that Tote sports betting differs significantly from the traditional fixed-odds market. Unlike the latter, where the odds are agreed upon when placing the bet, the overall pooled bets and the total amount of money bet on the winning outcome determine the odds and payout in a Tote.

Also, a “totalisator” facilitates this gambling option. These Totes take on no risk as the payout comes from the punters’ overall bets. But they get to deduct taxes and service fees from the total pool. These days, some bookmakers also offer Tote pools to their punters.

Tote Betting Rules

As mentioned, Tote wagering operates with its own rules, and it’s essential to understand them to succeed. These Tote betting rules may vary slightly depending on the specific system you wager on and other essential details. But here are some of the general guidelines you should keep in mind:

  • Betting pools: Tote involves pooling wagers into a single pot, which is later shared among the winning bets.
  • Dynamic odds: The Tote sports bet odds are dynamic and can change as more bets come in before the event.
  • Minimum stakes: Tote wagers usually have a minimum stake requirement, depending on the type, racecourse, and specific Tote service provider.
  • Place terms: For a Tote place bet, the number of allowable places can vary depending on the number of runners.
  • Tax and commission: Tote wagers usually incur tax and additional commissions for the Tote service, which gets deducted from the overall betting pool before winning bets get shared. The deducted percentage usually varies depending on the Tote type.
  • Pools with no winner: When a Tote bet ends with no winner, the entire gross pool usually gets carried forward to another race.

How Can You Bet on the Tote?

Tote sports betting often seems complicated to many beginners. However, this form of wagering is quite straightforward once you grasp the fundamental concepts. Once you understand how the Tote odds work, the types of bets you can place, how each way applies, and its distinction from fixed odds betting, you can easily place informed wagers.

How do Odds Work on the Tote?

One of the most significant distinctions between online Tote betting and other straightforward wagering options lies in how the odds work. The Tote wager has no fixed odds determining the potential payout. Instead, each participant’s odds and potential payout are determined by the overall bet pool and the amount wagered on each outcome.

So, the final odds for a Tote wager can only be determined when the betting pool closes, typically when the event commences. Once the event ends, the dividends get shared amongst the winning bets.

Calculation Example

Let’s look at a practical example to understand how this works fully. A 4-runner horse racing event will occur during the Cheltenham Festival, and UK bookies are offering Tote wagers. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say the Tote pool closed at an overall bet amount of $10,000, and the tax/commission is 10%.

The table below shows the breakdown of the wager on each horse selection and how the payout is derived.

Selection All bets placed Tote fee/taxes Calculation Price
Horse 1 $1,000 10% = 9,000/1,000 $9.00
Horse 2 $2,000 10% = 9,000/2,000 $4.50
Horse 3 $3,000 10% = 9,000/3,000 $3.00
Horse 4 $4,000 10% = 9,000/4,000 $2.25
$10,000 $1,000

According to the table, if horse 1 wins the race, punters with winning bets will receive $9.00 for every $1 wagered. In this case, if you had staked $100 on the horse, you would receive a $900 payout (i.e., $800 profit). And if horse 2, 3, or 4 wins, the payout will be $4.50, $3.00, or $2.25, respectively for every $1 wager.

Another thing you should note about the payouts is that the selection with the most action (i.e., largest bet amount @ $4,000) offered the least payout ($2.25). So, the smaller the bet amount on a selection, the bigger the share gained if it wins. That is why outsiders typically pay out vast amounts on Tote bets.

Types of Tote Bets Explained

One of the beauties of betting on the Tote is that it offers a wide range of betting options, each with unique characteristics and winning chances. From straight wagers like win and place bets to the more exotic ones like exacta, trifecta, and many others, you will find many options to explore in this market.

Now, let’s get into the different types of Tote betting.


The win wager is the simplest form of Tote bet that requires you to pick a single horse to win a race outright. You need to predict the winner whether the race is a 5-runner or more. For example, you can place a Tote sports bet on horse 3 to win an 8-runner race during the Grand National.

Naturally, you will only win this bet if horse 3 wins the race. The dividend for payout, however, will depend on the overall pool and the wager size of the winning selection. Your payout will then be your wager amount multiplied by the calculated dividend, as explained earlier.


Another way to approach betting on horse racing with the Tote is by engaging in “place” bets. Your selected horse doesn’t have to come first to win a place bet, as it usually covers the race’s top 2, 3, or more positions. It means you will win the bet if the selected horse comes in second, third, or even fourth (sometimes). Not all races will qualify for this type of bet, as the number of runners influences it. 

Here is the rule most Tote sports betting brands follow for positions in the place bet:

  • 2 to 4 runners: 1st alone (i.e., no place betting)
  • 5 to 7 runners: 1st & 2nd
  • 8 to 15 runners: 1st, 2nd, & 3rd
  • 16 or more non-handicap: 1st, 2nd & 3rd
  • 16 or more non-handicap: 1st, 2nd & 3rd, & 4th

For example, if you wager on horse 3 to place (top 3) in the 8-runner scenario above, you will win the bet if it finishes first, second, or third. As you might have already inferred, place Tote gambling bets tend to have higher winning chances than the win bet. However, the payout is usually less than the former as its pool gets split between more winners. Remember, a race must feature at least five horses to qualify for this bet.

Each way

Some Tote bookmakers also offer punters the chance to place each-way wagers on horse races, combining a “win wager” with the “place bet.” This wager is ideal for punters who are confident that their selected horse will win its race but also want to be cautious.

The Tote each-way wager works like the regular one, with two equal bets covering both win and place outcomes. But here, the win bet will go to the win pool, while the place wager will go to the place pool. If the selected horse wins the race, you will win both parts of the wager. However, if the horse comes in second or third, you will lose the win wager but win the place wager.

Note that many Tote bookmakers do not offer traditional each-way wagers, and bettors can only place separate bets to win or place. It is due to the nature of pool betting and the way odds are calculated in these systems. We will explain this in more detail later on in the guide.

Exacta and Reverse Exacta

The Tote exacta wager works similarly to the regular straight forecast bookmakers provide for horse racing events. Here, you must pick two horses to finish in the first and second positions in the exact order. For example, “Horse 4 @ 1st and Horse 2 @ 2nd.”

Another Tote bet exacta you can place is the reverse exacta, which works like the traditional one. It also involves picking the top two winners in a race but in any order. This reverse wager, however, covers two possible outcomes, thereby requiring two equal stakes. One for “Horse 4 @ 1st and Horse 2 @ 2nd” and the other for “Horse 2 @ 1st and Horse 4 @ 2nd.” You will win one part of the bet if the two horses finish in the top 2 spots.

As always, the Tote payouts of the exacta wagers will depend on the betting pool dividend calculated.

Trifecta and Reverse Trifecta

Like the Tote exacta, the trifecta wager in Tote betting is similar to the traditional counterpart. Here, you will select three horses to finish in the first, second, and third positions in a race and the exact order in which each horse will finish. For example, “Horse 4 @ 1st, Horse 2 @ 2nd, and Horse 8 @ 3rd.” As you can imagine, this is more difficult to predict, so the dividend of winning bets is typically higher here than exacta and straight-win wagers.

The reverse trifecta Tote bet, on the other hand, involves predicting the top three finishing horses in any order. Since it involves three horses in 3 possible places, this covers six possible outcomes and requires six equal stakes.


Swinger is one of the more unusual forms of single-race Tote exotic bets, usually operated on horse races with six or more runners. The objective of the Tote swinger wager is to select two horses to finish in the top three positions in a race, in any order. It results in a kind of combination wager as follows:

  • 1st and 2nd
  • 1st and 3rd
  • 2nd and 3rd

For example, if you pick Horse 5 and Horse 3 in a 6-runner race for your swinger wager, you will win the bet if they both finish in the first, second, or third position. But you lose if one or the two horses don’t finish in the top 3 spots.


The Totepool placepot wager is undeniably one of the more popular types of exotic horse racing bet you will find. Unlike the other wagers, this one typically applies to more than one race, usually the first six of each meeting. Here, you will pick a horse to place in the top positions in each of the first six races. The positions you will get will depend on the number of horses in the race, as highlighted in the Tote place wager above. Only 8-runner or more races can place in the top three positions.

The best part is that the Tote placepot rules do not limit the number of horses punters can pick for their wagers. You can pick two or more selections per race. However, this will result in a bigger stake as you cover more outcomes.


Another popular form of exotic Tote sports bet is the jackpot wager, which involves engaging the first six races at a meeting. However, unlike the placepot, this one involves selecting the winning horse in the six races.

As you might have inferred, the jackpot is more challenging to win as it requires that each selection come in first in the races, but the payout can be impressive for winners.


A Tote quadpot wager is similar to the placepot option. The only difference is that the quadpot selects horses to place in the last four out of the first six races at a meeting (i.e., the third to sixth races on the card).

Aside from the races, everything else follows the Tote placepot rules regarding the number of runners and the ability to pick more than one horse selection, as explained earlier. One of the best parts of this wagering option is that it allows punters to try again if their placepot goes down in any of the first two races. Of course, if you don’t fancy anything in the 1st and 2nd, you can always go for the quadpot directly.


The scoop6 wager is undoubtedly one of the more innovative Tote exotic bets. It involves making predictions across six specified horse races across various nominated meetings, typically held on Saturdays. Essentially, the scoop6 wager provided by the Tote service provider allows punters to pick winning horses or placed horses in each of the specified six races, and winning bets will get a share of the dividend.

Another exciting part about the Totescoop6 bet is that it also runs a bonus pool where winners of the wager can pick the winner of the bonus race on a later day to stand a chance to win an extra big pot.

Betting on Singles Vs. Multiples on the Tote

From the different bet types for Tote bets explained above, it’s safe to conclude that the wagering options fall into two broad categories – singles and multiples. The single wagers are the bets you place on a single selection and race. Examples are the win and place bets, straightforward options with high winning chances.

On the other hand, the multiples, also known as exotics, involve betting on multiple horses in one or more races. Examples include the Tote exacta, trifecta, placepot, and others, all of which involve making selections of two or more horses to win or place in one or more races, depending on the bet type.

The table below shows a comparison of the two wagering options.

Singles Multiples
Straightforward bet It can be pretty complex to predict
Involves a single horse selection in one race Involves two or more horse selections across one or more races and meetings
Higher chances of winning Lower chance of winning
Lower potential payout It has a pretty high potential payout
Limited betting options Offers more betting opportunities with different combinations

How Does Each-Way Betting Work on the Tote?

Unlike traditional horse racing bets, there is no each-way betting per se when you bet on the Tote, as mentioned under the each-way section above. Here is why.

When a punter places an each-way bet in regular fixed odds wagering, they place two separate bets as one: one for the horse to win and one for the horse to place. Notably, the odds for the place part of the each-way bet are a fraction of the win odds, usually 1/4 or 1/5. But since Tote betting involves the pooling of wagers, there is no way to know the win odds until the betting pool is closed. It makes it difficult to calculate fixed fractional odds for the place component of each-way bets. Hence, most Tote systems offer separate win and place bets.

However, you can create an equivalent of the each-way bet by placing the “Tote win” and “Tote place” wagers on the same horse selection. It can even be more beneficial than the traditional each-way wager. Let’s explore how below.

With the regular each-way wager, you must put up equal stakes to cover both the win and place parts of your bet. And if the selected horse comes in first, you win both parts of the bet. But if the horse doesn’t win but places, you get the winnings from only the place part of the bet. You may still incur a loss if the each-way place winnings don’t cover what you lost on the winning half.

However, you get independent markets with separate pools by engaging the “Tote win” and “Tote place” wagers separately. So, instead of a quarter or a fifth of the Totewin price, you would usually get from the each-way place half, the winnings here might be significantly higher or lower. Everything depends on the horses, the race, the action amount, and the Tote pool bet size.

Tote Betting Vs. Fixed Odds

As mentioned, the main distinction between Tote system betting and fixed odds wagering lies in determining odds and payouts. Punters’ wagers go into a pool with the Tote bet, which later gets shared across the winning bets according to the calculated dividend and stake amount. On the other hand, fixed-odds betting involves bookmakers setting odds prices based on predictions and opinions, reflecting the chances of an outcome occurring and what a punter can potentially gain.

It raises the question of which of the two options is better when betting on horse racing. However, there is no easy answer, as both have pros and cons. Ultimately, deciding which to use depends on each punter’s preferences. That said, the table below shows a comparison between the two wagering options.

Tote Betting Fixed Odds Betting
Pits punters against each other within a betting pool Pits punters against bookmakers.
Odds fluctuate as more bets enter the pool before the race’s commencement. Odds remain fixed once the bet is placed, regardless of any subsequent market change.
The total size of the betting pool and the amount on the winning bet determine the payout. Bookmakers base the payout on fixed odds they provide.
It can potentially give higher payouts to punters, especially for outsider horses. It offers a fixed payout determined by the odds when wagering.
A limited number of wagering options. It provides various wagering opportunities on different outcomes in sports events.
It is often associated with horse racing but can also be available for other sports. Widely available across multiple sports, from horse racing to football, tennis, basketball, etc.

Tote Betting Tips

There is no denying that Tote betting can be an exciting way to enjoy betting while standing a chance to earn more considerable rewards. However, like any sports betting form, being strategic with your Tote wagers is essential. That way, you can avoid common mistakes while improving your chances of winning.

Here are some tips that can help you achieve that.

  • Do your research: Research is vital to any successful sports betting activity, and Tote wagering is no exception. So, before placing your bet, research and ensure your selection has a good chance of winning.
  • Choose a suitable bet type: Different types of Tote bets are available to punters, as we have mentioned earlier. So, familiarize yourself with the different bet types available and choose the one you are more comfortable with.
  • Set a budget: Money management is crucial in your journey, as Tote online betting can be risky and hard to win. So, set a budget and stick to it, and only play with money you can afford to lose.
  • Be patient: Due to the unpredictable nature of horse racing events, Tote betting can sometimes be quite frustrating as you may lose several bets. Ensure you are always patient and never chase losses.
  • Consider outsiders: If, based on your research, your prediction favors an outsider over the favorite, don’t be afraid to bet on it. Favorites don’t always win races. Plus, the dividends on outsiders are usually huge compared to the favorites’ payout.

The Tote Origins

The Tote was first introduced in the United Kingdom in 1928 under the supervision of Sir Winston Churchill, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. With horse racing becoming quite popular and many people wanting to place bets, illegal betting became rampant. So, the Tote was created as a regulated, government-controlled alternative to create a fair and transparent betting system that would ensure player protection. A secondary goal was to use the betting revenue generated from the Tote to support the horse racing industry. Surprisingly, the Tote became a resounding success that remains to date. Some other countries, like the Tote, also created their unique system to achieve pool betting.

The Tote Today

The Tote has undergone several transformations since it came up in the 1920s. As mentioned, the United Kingdom’s government established and owned the Tote brand. It remained so until July 2011, when it was privatized and sold to Betfred, who owned and managed it until 2009, before the UK Tote group acquired it.

Today, the UK Tote group operates Tote bets on horse races in the UK and Ireland, offering it across diverse race courses and even through online platforms and mobile apps for convenient accessibility. We should also mention that while Tote traditionally operated independently from bookmakers, there are collaborations between it and sports betting sites. So, some Tote bookmakers offer these wagers alongside their regular fixed odds market, providing their punters with a broader range of options.

Where Can You Bet on the Tote?

Like most horse racing wagers, Tote sports betting started at racecourses. Today, almost all racecourses in the UK and Ireland have Tote betting stations and representatives on-site to facilitate the wagering pool.

Punters can also access this wagering option online through standard bookmakers. The Tote brand also offers an online presence where punters can easily join the pool in horse racing events through its site and mobile app. 

Some of the best Tote betting sites that also provide a betting pool online today include the following:

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The online Tote betting sites listed here are some of the best sports betting brands with a solid reputation in the market, offering a fair and safe market. They also offer different Tote betting options across several horse racing events, providing punters with many opportunities. Other than that, the sites also have great promotions and offers, exceptional mobile betting experience, excellent customer services, etc., making them good choices for punters.

Final Words

Tote sports betting is a popular and exciting way to wager on horse racing events and a few other sports. It offers a unique and innovative approach to wagering that is unlike the typical fixed odds market by pooling punters’ stakes together into a pot it shares amongst winning bets. So, instead of betting against the bookmakers, you are essentially playing against other players, which can bring huge dividends.

From straightforward win and place singles to exotic options like exacta, trifecta, placepot, and many others, you can enjoy various Tote betting options, each with its characteristics. While it has its fair share of drawbacks, there is no denying that Tote online betting provides an excellent opportunity for punters to win big online. So, don’t hesitate to give it a try.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is Tote betting?
    Tote betting is a wagering option that pools all bets on a racing event together and divides it among the winning bets after deductions for the usual tax and fees.
  • How does Tote betting work?
    When you bet on the Tote, your stake goes into a pool for the specific race or event, along with the stakes of other punters. The total pool size and the bet amount on your chosen outcome will determine the odds of your bet and potential dividends. If your prediction wins, you will receive your share of the pool based on the dividend and your wager amount.
  • What is a Tote bet in horse racing?
    A Tote bet in horse racing involves wagering on a horse race event through the Tote pool betting system. It can include various types of bets, such as win, place, exacta, trifecta, placepot, and more.
  • How is a Tote bet different from a fixed-odds bet?
    The primary difference between fixed odds and Tote betting systems lies in how the odds work. Bookmakers assign the odds on each outcome in the fixed odds option, determining the potential payout a punter can get from the bet. But in the Tote option, the odds and final payout depend on the total pool size and the amount of winning wagers.
  • When is a Tote bet better than a fixed-odds bet?
    Since Tote wager involves punters wagering against each other, it can often offer a better market than the fixed odds option. It is especially true for less popular selections, which typically get less action from punters. So, the payout on less popular runners in Tote bets tends to be higher than you will find on typical fixed-odds options.
  • Can a Tote bet be made on Royal Ascot?
    You can place Tote bets in races at the Royal Ascot and other racing meetings. You can do it at the racecourse, betting outlets, or online.
  • Should I bet Tote or fixed?
    The choice between Tote and fixed odds wagering ultimately depends on your preference, as both options have pros and cons. Fixed odds wagers offer stable odds and certainty in terms of potential payouts. On the other hand, Tote offers a more dynamic system where the odds and payout depend on the volume of wagers in the pool.
  • How to calculate Tote bets?
    The odds, also known as the dividend of Tote bets, are calculated by dividing the total pool size by the winning bet amount. If your prediction wins, your payout will be the product of their stake and the dividend. Note that the more complex and exotic Tote bets require more calculations.
  • How to find Tote bets on Skybet?
    To find Tote bets on Skybet and any other bookmaker that offers it, you need to navigate to the horse racing section of the website or app. Then, find the “Tote” out of the available wagering options and click on it. It will reveal all the races available and the bet types offered.
  • Is Tote betting better?
    Not necessarily. Sometimes, Tote bets offer much better odds and payout than the fixed odds market. At other times, the reverse can be the case. Whether Tote or fixed odds betting is better depends on each punter’s preferences.
  • Still have questions?
    Ask our experts
Rebecca E
Writer & Media

Rebecca is a Liverpool gal and a big fan of the club. She likes nothing more than sharing tips and predictions on sports betting. Her other favorite sports include horse racing, snooker, and golf. Rebecca is in charge of writing and media at BetZillion. You can thank her for making our articles look so great.

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