There are a number of ways gamblers can play to win at the races. Some of the most common, particularly in the UK and Australia, are betting against the house for a gambler’s favorite horse to win, place or show, or through a combination of options. However, bettors don’t always have to play against the house to win big. Pari-mutuel betting is widespread across the globe and is always a standard alternative and until recently was the only real option in the USA.

Adam Bjorn, a gaming industry executive and expert on horse race gambling, explains the specifics behind pari-mutuel bets and what makes them a favorite among gamblers.

Pari-mutuel bets are also referred to as pool bets. Instead of placing a bet with the house, which could be a track or a bookmaker, gamblers place bets against other gamblers in a particular event. The money collected goes into a pool, and those whose horse wins the race split the pool when the event is complete. As is usually the case with bets, the house will keep a percentage of the pool for facilitating the bet.

Placing pari-mutuel bets as a process is very simple, however, the thought process can be more difficult than placing fixed odds bets depending how big the pool is and how close to post time you are looking to place your wagers. Says Bjorn, “It’s difficult to use any given strategy when making pari-mutuel bets since there are no fixed odds. The payout will ultimately depend on how much money is in the the pool and many units picked the correct winner. In addition, the amount to be divided among the winners isn’t calculated until after the race is closed to wagers, however the simple bet types will be displayed as ‘approximate’ dividends from when the race pool opens, until they are past the post until final dividends are issued. However, it is the most popular option to place wagers within the horse racing industry, as it is more readily available than the fixed odds option. The ‘exotics’ like the large multi race wagers, superfecta’s and jackpot type options are what drive the industry’s revenue, so making them as enticing as possible while the regulators are also protecting pari-mutuel options to the point of having a betting monopoly in some jurisdictions.

Although in the USA, there are generally no fixed odds before the race, tracks will provide what they call a ‘Morning Line’, this is meant to guide bettors on what will provide the expected odds for each horse in each race. Because no true fixed odds are available, it becomes more difficult to determine the possible value of the wager due to the Morning lines having no accountability due to being unable to wager against them, so they have less importance to them like the Fixed odds in UK and Australia. Gamblers also usually determine the value of a particular bet in the gambling market before placing their wager in order to know the return. However, pari-mutuel wagers, by nature, don’t have set value, adding an element of surprise to the wagers beyond the simple ‘win ‘ bet. Adds Bjorn, “Since the probable odds available when a wager is placed are likely to change, there’s a chance that, by the end of the race, the wager has less value than was originally expected.”

As with other forms of horse betting, there are different types of pari-mutuel wagers available. Gamblers can bet for a horse to win, place or show, or can select an “across the board” wager. In the latter, which is primarily only seen in the US, the gambler chooses to place the same amount on all three options. If the horse wins, all three parts of the wager are paid; if the horse finishes second (or places), then the place and show wagers are paid. If the horse finishes third (shows), only the show wager is paid.

There are also Exacta, Trifecta and Superfecta single race type bets. Explains Bjorn, The exacta bet is used to select two horses to finish first and second, and they have to finish in that order for the bet to be paid. With a trifecta wager, the gambler is predicting the first three finishers in a specific order to win the bet and the Superfecta is the first four.” As mentioned already it’s the Multi race wagers that are often the more popular wagers, when coming to the Pick3, 4 or 6. The aim of this is to pick the winner of that many races in a row, and the bet types are often are tied to carry over jackpots due to their difficulty to hit without high spends with multiple combinations being played. The bigger the race fields, the more difficult it is to pick a single winner, let alone 6 in a row.

Pari-mutuel bets were reportedly introduced in 1867 and have become commonplace at most tracks around the world.