A guide to Tote Betting and its benefits

Tote betting in Australia is a form of parimutuel betting. That means that all bets placed by players on a horse race are put into a ‘pool’. From that collective pool of money, the operator will take their cut and the rest of it goes out to the winning bets that were placed. Tote betting remains hugely popular in Australia, despite the surge of corporate bookmakers.

The TAB 

The Totalisator Agency Board (TAB) are the big totalisator operations that are running in Australia. These are the organisations that hold the big monopoly of the betting format in the country. A reason for that is because the TAB was operated by the Government originally but then were sold off to private operators.

The three big TABs in Australia are the TAB (Victoria), NSWTAB (New South Wales) and Uber which is a big umbrella for Queensland, South Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania following a big rebranding in 2015. 

How Tote Betting Works in horse racing

Tote betting is relatively simple. A punter will visit a bookmaker and pick out the horse that they wish to back in a race. All of the stakes that have been placed on that race will be collected up by the Tote operator into a central fund, or ‘pool’.

The entire pot that is left after the operator has taken their cut, will be shared out between the punters who had backed the winning horse in that race.

The odds that will be on offer that punters will see in a pre-race Tote market, will be estimates of what the bookmaker thinks that you would get paid out if a particular horse were to win.

Those estimated odds will depend on how much betting action is going towards a particular horse in the race. So Tote odds for a race will fluctuate a lot depending on money coming in to support the different horses.

But no matter what the final odds are, all winning punters get paid out at that same dividend. So until the race has been run and settled, only then will a punter know exactly what the odds were that the horse ran at. 

An example of Tote Example where a 10% cut for the operator is taken

Knowing how much is staked in total in the pool, the Tote operator will take their set cut. In this Tote example, it is a 10% cut. This form of betting, therefore, becomes relatively low-risk for the bookie because they know exactly what percentage of the total they will be taking, regardless of how much money is played on a race. It’s a variable that doesn't change. In the example below, the operator will have taken a $26 profit (Pool Total - 10%).


Total Wagered

Per Horse

Calculated Odds

Pool Net / Total Horse Wager

Tote Odds

Horse 1


$234 / 20


Horse 2


$234 / 30


Horse 3


$234 / 40


Horse 4


$234 / 60


Horse 5


$234 / 110



$260 Gross Pool Total

-10% Operator’s Cut

$234 Net Pool Total

So to the outcome of the race. Horse 5, who was the most heavily backed in the race, wins and the Tote dividend odds were 2.13 which means that for every $1 unit of stake that a punter had played on Horse 5, they would get $2.13 back.

An important takeaway on margins

The big important takeaway from the above example is the cut that the tote betting operator is taking. As a punter the lower the margin the better. If in the example above the operator had been running at a 7% margin instead of 10% then that would have meant more money left in the pot for the punters come the payout.

Is the Tote or Fixed Odds better?

Where tote betting really comes into its own when outsiders win, because it can often lead to bigger payouts than from fixed odds betting. In Fixed Odds betting, the punter knows exactly what odds they are backing a selection at. 

However, different punters will back the same selection at different odds, because the bookie will continuously shift the market around to ensure that they are always in a good position, regardless of which horse wins.

There is a greater risk involved for the bookmaker when it comes to fixed odds betting, because they don’t know the outcome of the race so there is no way to guarantee an exact profit margin. So they push margins (their cut) higher. In the case of Tote betting, they will know exactly how much they are taking. 

Tote Jackpots offer big payouts 

Another thing that makes Tote betting popular is the possibility of earning a big payout from a small stake. Jackpots are another massively popular aspect of Tote betting. These are pools where the operator is putting up a guaranteed minimum jackpot amount. 

A tote jackpot may for example be a Big 6, which is spread across six nominated races. The races may be all from one track on a given day, or from different tracks. Any punter that successfully picks all six winners would get a share of the guaranteed jackpot. 

Which Bookies offer Tote betting? 

While there are the big TAB operators, it is possible to visit other licensed bookmakers and still get Tote betting action done. Punters will find that bookmakers operate their own Tote jackpot products so there is some variety around. 

For example bet365 has a wide range of Tote options available and their own 365 tote and the top tote+. So the general upshot is that you just need to visit a regulated bookmaker like SportsBetting, BetEasy or Ladbrokes and enjoy Tote betting.

Some Tote Bet Terminology 

  • Exacta - Selecting the exact order of the top-two in a race
  • Quinella - selecting the top two in a race, but not in a any specific order
  • Trifecta - Picking the exact finishing order of the top three of a race
  • First4 - Selecting the first four finishers in a race in the exact order
  • Duet - A punter selects two horses, both of which have to finish in the top three (any order)
  • Racing Double - Picking the pickings of two consecutive races
  • Daily Double - Selecting the winner of two races at the same track
  • Treble - Selecting the winner of three different races from the same track
  • Quadrella - Also known as a Quaddie, a punter will chose the winner of four different races from the same track
  • Big 6 - Six nominated races for the punter to pick the winner of each
  • Roving Banker - This can be applied to a Trifecta or First 4 tote bet. In the example of a Trifecta the punter choses 1 or 2 runners to definitely finish in the top three, then fills out the places by selecting some Roving Bankers who could fill the other spot/s.

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Horse racing betting guide