Last updated February 25th, 2021
Tote betting (also known as Pool betting and Pari-Mutuel betting) differs from fixed odds betting in that the odds on your bet are not known until the event has closed for betting, usually when the event starts.
This is because in Tote or Pool betting all the stakes are totalled up and then a house percentage removed from the total. The remaining sum in the pool is then split between the winning tickets. This is much the same way a national lottery works.
It follows that the dividend pays less on the most popular horses as they attracted the most money – there are more winning tickets to pay if a favourite wins. However if an outsider wins the event then it follows the odds, or dividend, paid is large as there were less people people backing that selection and they share the pooled money between them.
In the UK Tote betting was run until 2012 by the government owned sportsbook, called unsurprisingly ‘The Tote’. It has now been sold off into the private sector and it is a shadow of its former glory. Once everyone in the UK used to use the Tote for their betting. Now it is poorly run and managed, which is a same because it could have been used to solve UK horse racing’s financial problems but years of mismanagement and incompetence have allowed that ship to well and truly sail. Nowadays, if you want a Tote bet, it is best to do it on a site such as Bet365 Bookmaker. They offer Tote betting and your bets there will go directly into the official Tote pools. It is just a far better set-up to use as Bet365’s infrastructure is superior and they offer so many other options besides. Also their famously good customer service beats The Tote hands down.
Pari-Mutuel is exactly the same thing, but the term is the French phrase for Tote betting. In France the Pari-Mutuel is state owned and so much better organised and managed.
The term Pool Betting is extremely descriptive and explains the process in a nutshell. All bets are pooled and then the winning tickets or bets are paid the sum of the pool of bets.
There are a variety of Pool bets, not only simple win bets. There are also Place bet pools (In America they have Win, Place & Show pool bets) and many more exotic pool bets such as: Exacta, Quinella, Trifecta, Superfecta, Box bets, Doubles, Trebles (also sometimes called Triples and Pick Threes), Quadrella (also known as Quaddie or four-leg accumulator), Sweep (either a Pick Four or Pick Six etc).
There are some popular Tote bets on UK horseracing, such as the placepot (which is available for all race meetings), the Tote jackpot (usually only available at the main meeting of the day) and the Scoop 6 (another formerly popular bet that has lost its general appeal through poor management).
So the Tote can specifically mean the bookmaker that offers that form of pool betting in the UK. The term can also more generally mean a type of betting system ie: just another way of generically referring to pool betting. What you will find is that the terms for a tote system of betting will change according to the country you are in, but the bet types they offer are generally the same.
In summary, in the UK we recommend that you place your Tote bets via a top site like Bet365 Bookmaker as they link straight into the Tote-owned system but do a much better job.