Connect with us

Everything You Need To Know About Pari-Mutuel Betting

The menu of entertainment options is vast in Indiana, though some options provide more bang for the buck than others, and a select few provide you with the opportunity to make money while having a good time.

One such activity is pari-mutuel betting, which is what takes place when you place wagers on horse racing.

It’s completely legal in the Hoosier State, and you can partake by visiting of the state’s two operating racinos, spend some time at a completely legal off-track betting facility or take care of business online or via mobile app.

For the latter option, the best place to do so is TVG, a recognized leader in the industry and also the home for live betting action from across the globe.

Getting started with pari-mutuel betting isn’t as hard as it may seem. We’re going to cover all of the ins and outs for you, so read on as we explore this fascinating way to get some skin in the game.

What is pari-mutuel betting?

Pari-mutuel is a style of betting system. As opposed to fixed betting in which the payout on wagers is known going in, it’s not as clear cut with this system. All bets are placed together into a pool and the facilitator of the pool, which in horse racing would be the track where the race is run, takes a cut, known as a take or vigorish.

The remainder of the pool is then split among winning bettors based on the odds attached to the selection and number of correct entries.

The roots of pari-mutuel betting can be traced back to 1867 and is believed to have been invented by Joseph Oller, an entrepreneur from Catalonia, Spain.

Increased traction was seen in the 1900s with pari-mutuel betting being introduced in the United States coming in 1927.

Beyond horse racing, pari-mutuel betting can also be found in niche sports such as greyhound racing or jai alai, as well as in some forms of lottery games. The most well-known use is in horse racing, and it’s a standard form for betting on races across the globe.

How pari-mutuel betting works

Let’s walk through a simple example of how the pari-mutuel betting system works.

For simplicity, let’s call it a horse race with eight runners that attracts a total of $1,000 in betting action on which horse will win. Here are the starters listed by post position with amounts wagered and final odds:

Post Position Wager Amount Final Odds
1 $60 12-1
2 $136 5-1
3 $23 30-1
4 $107 8-1
5 $214 3-1
6 $91 9-1
7 $292 2-1
8 $77 10-1


From the total action on the race, the track will take out its percentage, for which we’ll use 15%.

If we take the total amount of bets and deduct the take, that leaves $850 to be split among bettors who selected the winning horse.

The race ends and horse No. 4 crosses the finish line in first place. We can determine the payout for those bettors by taking the amount of the prize pool and dividing it by the betting action that the winning selection attracted.

  • $850 divided by $107 = $7.94

For every dollar wagered, winning bettors will receive back $7.94. If one of the handicappers who wagered on horse No. 4 dropped $10 on the race, then they would receive back a total of $79.40, and so on. In advance of races going off, tracks and betting platforms will provide a running tally of the pools and approximate payout estimates, but it’s still helpful to know how the math behind it all works.

How to bet on horse racing

There’s a lot more to horse racing than just picking winners. You have several options to consider on the wagering menu and the bet types can be broken down into three main categories.

Let’s take a look at the first group, which are also the simplest to understand.

  • Win: This is the bet in which you choose the winner of the race.
  • Place: A place is a bet on a horse to finish in second place or better.
  • Show: The show bet covers a horse to finish in third place or higher.

You can place each of these bets individually, and also combine them to cover multiple outcomes, such as Win/Place, Win/Place/Show, or Place/Show.

At some tracks, the minimum is as low as $1, while others require at least a $2 wager. The next category of bets are ones in which you are picking multiple places of finishers.

Known as exoitic bets, these wagers can provide some serious bang for the buck if everything breaks in your favor.

  • Exacta: A bet on the top two horses in the race.
  • Quinella: Similar to an exacta wager, but the horses can finish in either order.
  • Trifecta: You have to pick the top three finishers for this one.
  • Superfecta: This is a wager on the top four places for the race.
  • SuperHighFive: A bet where you have to pick the top five runners.

A good part of the appeal of these wagers is they can be placed for small denominations, in some cases as low as 10 cents or 50 cents. You can place a straight bet on the exotics, which means the horses have to finish in the order selected, or box your choices to cover multiple combinations.

Bettors can also choose multiple runners in each slot, but the cost of the betting ticket will rise with each additional selection.

Our final group of wagers are ones which cover multiple races on a card of action. The goal is to pick the winner in consecutive races.

  • Daily Double: Winners in back-to-back races.
  • Pick 3: Winners in three straight races.
  • Pick 4: Winners for four consecutive races.
  • Pick 5: Winners for five in a row.
  • Pick 6: Winners of six straight races.

These bets are similar to exotics in that they can be placed for small dollar amounts, and you also have the option of picking multiple runners for each leg. The cost of the ticket will vary depending on the number of selections.

Wagers in this category are tough to hit, but the betting pools can rise nicely on tracks that see a good deal of betting action.

What are the different types of horse races?

Each horse race that is run is designated as a certain type. These race types can help to distinguish the quality of the runners in the field and their level of experience.

Here’s a look at the four main types you’ll come across.


A maiden race is one in which all runners in the field have yet to notch their first win. You’ll see horses making their debut here, as well as others who have yet to get off the schneid.


A claiming race is one for experienced horses that are being offered for sale. As such, the race is kind of a showcase, but it’s also a competitive one that sees plenty of betting action.


These are some of the bigger races on the card with purses to match. You’ll generally see experienced horses that may or may not have graduated to the next level, as well as some promising youngsters who may be on the way up.


These are the biggest races. They attract the top runners, largest prize pools and most betting action.

Stakes can vary in competition level from standard to graded with the pools rising based on the importance of the race.

All of the above categories also have their own offshoots. For example, you may see terms such as Maiden Special Weight or Allowance Optional Claiming, but they all fall into one of the border categories up above.

Also keep in mind that the surface and length of race will vary. On the surface front, the main two are dirt and turf, but there are also all-weather tracks and synthetic surfaces.

As for length, it can range from as short as five furlongs to 1 1/2 miles or longer. For reference, a furlong is the equivalent of 1/8 of a mile. Four furlongs equal 1/2 mile, while one mile is eight furlongs.

Races that are less than a mile in length are generally listed in furlongs, while a mile and up will be listed at the exact length. These types of races cover thoroughbred racing, which is the dominant sector of the industry. However, there are two other types of racing which are quite popular that you should become familiar with.

Harness racing

For harness racing, jockeys are situated in a two-wheeled cart behind the horse. The horses run at a specific pace and are sometimes referred to as trotters.

Quarter horse racing

These are quick jaunts on a dirt track, typically at reduced lengths such as 300 yards or 4 1/2 furlongs. The races are essentially sprints and go by in a flash.

The bet types we have already outlined apply to these two categories of racing action as well. Harness and Quarter Horse racing are typically designated by track at online betting operators, so you should be able to spot them easily.

Best horse races to bet on

One of the great things about horse racing betting is that there’s almost always action going on. TVG, our recommended home for online and mobile betting, provides coverage of races from around the globe. You’ll have a number of different tracks to consider each da, and there are also times when the betting interest ratchets up substantially. The Triple Crown races and other major events attract tons of attention from the general public.

Let’s take a look.

Kentucky Derby

The race, known as the Run for the Roses, is held annually at Churchill Diwns in Kentucky. This is generally the biggest race of the year for betting purposes as far as the public is concerned.

Preakness Stakes

The second leg of the Triple Crown takes place at Pimlico Race Course in Maryland. Just like the Derby, the top rujnners from the current season compete in one of the year’s signature racing events.

Belmont Stakes

Held at Belmont Park in New York, the Belmont Stakes is considered to be perhaps the toughest to win of all the Triple Crown races. As with the other Triple Crown races, the quality of runners is very high.

Breeders’ Cup

The Breeders’ Cup is like a year-end celebration for horse racing, and the card is chock full of championship events. For seasoned bettors, this is perhaps the biggest highlight on the racing calendar.

While these are the top events of the season, there are a number of other huge stakes races to look forward to throughout the year. Many of them take place on what’s known as the Road to the Kentucky Derby, such as the Louisiana Derby and Arkansas Derby.

Key stats for horse racing

Just like with other sports, there are a number of different statistics to consider when it comes to horse racing. Here’s a look at some of the more common ones you’ll come across when studying the races.


Between actual races, horses will go through practice runs. Times are tracked for these jaunts which can sometimes provide useful pieces of intel.

Fractional times

Some bettors swear by fractional times as a key handicapping stat. These are times that it takes a horse to make it to a certain marker, such as the quarter pole.


A speed rating quantifies how fast the horse runs in a single number. It’s a useful comparison tool to help separate the different runners in the race.


A class rating refers to the overall quality of the horse in relation to its peers, and can also refer to the company it has been keeping, such as class of races run.


Pace tracks where a horse tends to run at different points, such as first quarter, middle and end. It can help point to the type of running style for the horse in question.


A power rating is an all-encompassing number which attempts to rate horses by overall quality and strength. It’s a way to get a quick snapshot of the runners in the field.

Jockey and trainer

In addition to researching the horses themselves, you can also track the past performances of the jockeys and trainers behind them.

Track, surface and conditions

You can check out how each of the runners in the race has performed on the current track, the surface and in any specific conditions that may influence the proceedings.

Earnings and finishes

Theoretically, the better horses will place highly more often and win more money as a result. This is another solid way to separate the class of horses in the field.

All of the information can seem a bit overwhelming at first glance. The good news is you can devise a handicapping system that works best for your strategy and available time. You also have the luxury of considering picks from reputable sources that you trust.

Pari-mutuel betting handicapping tips

Since there’s so much information to consider, it may seem like handicapping takes a ton of time. While it certainly can if you get lost down the rabbit hole of research, you can also keep things simple and attempt to bottom line the proceedings.

Here are some key indicators you can look at which can help point you in the direction of making your selections quickly.

Average speed rating

Just like athletes in other sports, horses can go through spurts of greatness and have other times in which things aren’t going so well. If you look at the average speed ratings for the last three races run, that’s a good indicator of the current state of affairs.

Recent performance and finishes

Expanding on the current performance metric, pay close attention to recent finishes and times to complete races. To drill down even further, look at how the horse has fared in recent races run at the same length and under similar circumstances.

Lifetime earnings

Once again, the horse that earns the most should theoretically be among the best of the bunch. Watch out for horses that may have accumulated a good deal of money over lots of races, and pay close attention to those who have made lots in just a few.

Horse racing in Indiana

If interested in viewing live racing in person here in Indiana, you’re in luck. There are two tracks that operate on similar calendars of April through October and here are the details for each:

Harrah’s Hoosier Park Racing & Casino 

4500 Dan Patch Circle, Anderson, IN 46013

Indiana Grand Racing & Casino

4300 N. Michigan Rd., Shelbyville, IN 46176

Both of these venues are part of the Caesars Entertainment family.

Hoosier Park hosts live harness racing, while thoroughbreds rule the day at Indiana Grand. The two racinos also have full simulcasting capabilities and provide feeds of other races from across the nation.

There are also several legal off-track betting facilities located in the state. You can watch and wager right along while catching all of the racing action live. Of course, you can also do the same wherever you like, courtesy of TVG.

Key takeaways on pari-mutuel betting

Pari-mutuel betting is most commonly associated with horse racing. It’s a betting system in which all of the wagering dollars are placed into the same pool. The operating track takes its cut, while the remaining proceeds are split among winning tickets.

Payouts will vary based on the total dollars wagered for winning selections and the odds at race time. You can easily disseminate this information ahead of post time as pool totals and estimated payouts are tracked by betting platforms.

There are a number of different bet types and categories of races to consider. You can bet on the winners or explore a whole host of other opportunities. As for races, the action ranges form horses at the beginner level all the way up to the very best the sport has to offer.

Handicapping is the art of breaking down the races with the goal of figuring out how it will turn out. There are also numerous sources which provide picks and analysis to be found throughout the internet.

Pari-mutuel betting can be fun and entertaining, not to mention potentially profitable if things break in your favor. TVG, a recognized leader in online and mobile betting, makes for a great way to get in on the action in hassle-free fashion.