Understanding the Tote Board

The tote board – that big electronic monster you see sitting in the infield at a racetrack is the nerve center of the track – at least on the front side where the bets are made. It displays odds, probable payouts, betting pools, race fractions, final times, track conditions, official results and more. Bettors crave this information, which is also piped into hundreds of monitors, TV screens and online services.

Without the tote board most bettors would be lost. (Some are lost anyway). No one would know what the odds were on any of their horses before they bet, nor would they know what their horses paid to win, place or show after the race not to mention all the probable and actual exotic payoffs.

Would people still bet without the tote board? Hmmm. Would you bet on something without knowing the odds? OK, don’t answer that question.

Without the tote board we’d have to go back to the old bookie system with guys named Big Louie and Joe Nuts. Some players would love that. The sharpest bookies and players would make a killing. But the average bettor would be lost in space.

So the tote board stays. Here’s why.

How betting odds are calculated and displayed on the tote board

Whenever someone makes a wager the information is instantaneously sent to a computer hidden deep in the dungeon of the track. The tote board’s big computer brain then goes to work. Win bets are put into the win pool of money, place bets are put in the place pool, exacta bets are put into the exacta pool, Win 3 bets are put into the Win 3 pool etc., for every horse and every possible combination that is bet.

After subtracting the takeout (a percentage of each dollar wagered which is removed from the betting pools to pay the racetrack and various levels of government taxes) from each bet, the computer brain goes to work calculating the percentage of money bet into each specific pool on each specific horse and each specific combination. It then produces the odds and probable payouts according to these percentages and shoots these odds through the wires back to the tote board, monitors, TV screens and online services!

The odds and payouts displayed on the tote board represent what the public thinks of each horses and each combinations chances of winning. And while the public correctly picks the winner of a race approximately 33 percent of the time, they also make mistakes, which is where you can use the tote board to your advantage to spot value.

If you think a horse has a 2-1 chance of winning and the tote board says 4-1, you have found yourself an overlay. Remember, you’re not playing against the house your playing against other bettors. If they mistake in judgment you pounce on it!

The odds on the tote board change every few seconds to reflect the money that is being poured into the betting pools and the resulting new percentages. It is best to keep a close eye on the odds while doing your handicapping or waiting to bet. A horse you like at 5-1 may not look attractive at 30 seconds to post time when someone bets enough to drop its odds down to 2-1. The same works in reverse. A horse you don’t like at 2-1 might suddenly become a much more attractive betting proposition if the odds slide up to 4-1.

Win odds are generally (but not always) displayed as a reflection of a $1 bet. Since the smallest win bet you can make is $2, you have to perform a simple calculation (in your head) to figure out what you will get for your $2 wager. A horse listed at 5-1 on the tote board will pay approximately $12 to win for a $2 wager (5 * $2 + $2), or five times the amount wagered plus the amount wagered. A horse listed at 2-1 would pay approximately $6 to win for a $2 wager (2 * $2 + $2). In some cases the tote board will display the actual payouts for a $2 wager, which saves you the extreme mental distress of converting $1 odds to $2 payouts.

Odds such as 4/5 are below even-money and will pay less than $1 for every dollar wagered. For example, a horse listed at 4/5 would pay approximately $3.60 to win for a $2 wager or 80 cents for each dollar wagered, plus the amount wagered (0.80 * $2 + $2).

The tote board also usually displays probable payouts for all the possible exacta, quinella and daily double combinations. These payouts should also be watched for value. An exacta payout of $6 on a combination of two 3-1 shots probably does not represent good value, but a payout of $30 might. If the public makes mistakes in judgment in the win-betting pool they will very likely make similar misjudgments in the exotic betting pools. You can spot the resulting overlay combinations in the exotic pools by watching the tote board.

Race specific information displayed on the tote board

Besides the odds, the tote board displays numerous additional pieces of information that can assist, stimulate and excite the bettor. The upcoming race number is displayed along with the minutes to post time stimulating you to hurry up and make your wager before it is too late.

Fractional times or ‘splits’ are displayed on the tote board during the running of the race, for the horse that is leading at various points of call. For example, in a six-furlong race (a furlong is equal to an eighth of a mile, eight furlongs = 1 mile, six furlongs = three-quarters of a mile), factional times are displayed on the tote board when the lead horse in the race has run a quarter mile, half mile, and sometimes five furlongs. The final time is also displayed on the tote board when the winning horse crosses the finish line.

Handicappers who use pace numbers and fractional time calculations in their handicapping know immediately whether their selection has a chance early in the race, based on the position of their horse in the field in relation to the fractional times that are displayed on the tote board.

The track condition (fast, slow, muddy, good, sloppy, heavy, frozen, firm (Turf), yielding (Turf) etc.) is displayed on the tote board, as are jockey over weights. If horse #1 in Race #3 is assigned 116 pounds and the jockey (plus their equipment) weighs in at 120, the tote board would display: Race 3 – #1 4 pounds over.

Results, payouts and the official sign Enquiry!

After the race has run you MUST wait for the OFFICIAL sign to be displayed on the tote board before you can cash your winning ticket. The UNOFFICIAL sign will be displayed on the tote board until the race is made OFFICIAL by the track Stewards (officials who monitor the running of a race). Occasionally, during the running of the race, a jockey or horse may interfere with another horse and a jockey will lodge a claim of foul (OBJECTION) against the offending rider. This will appear on the tote board.

The Stewards may also lodge an ENQUIRY into the running of a race if they see something occur that effects the orderly running of the race or the order of finish. For example, one horse might cut another horse off. If the jockey does not claim foul (OBJECTION), the Stewards, at their discretion, can still make an ENQUIRY into the race. This can result in disqualifications and a reordering of the actual finish. Thus, you should NEVER RIP YOUR TICKETS UP OR THROW THEM AWAY UNTIL after a race has been declared OFFICIAL.

Once a race has been declared Official, the payoffs will be posted on the tote board for win, place, show and exotic wagers. You can then collect your millions.

Example tote board display of payouts

If the final order of finish was 2-5-6-7 the tote board might display the payouts as follows:

# ( Win-Place-Show)
2 5.60 3.40 2.60
5 4.80 2.40
6 2.80

(Alternating Exotic payouts displayed under Win-Place-Show payouts)
Exacta 2-5 21.40
Quinella 2-5 8.60
Trifecta 2-5-6 126.40
Superfecta 2-5-6-7 647.80
Win 3 7-5-2 86.40

Approximate $1 odds and $2 payouts

$1 Odds Pays
1/5 $2.40
2/5 $2.80
1/2 $3.00
3/5 $3.20
4/5 $3.60
1/1 $4.00
6/5 $4.40
7/5 $4.80
3/2 $5.00
8/5 $5.20
9/5 $5.60
2-1 $6.00
5/2 $7.00
3-1 $8.00
7/2 $9.00
4-1 $10.00
9/2 $11.00
5-1 $12.00
6-1 $14.00
7-1 $16.00
8-1 $18.00
9-1 $20.00
10-1 $22.00
15-1 $32.00
20-1 $42.00
30-1 $62.00
50-1 $102.00