How to Calculate Horse Racing Betting Odds and Payoffs

Tote board
Tote board. Al Bello / Getty Images

It's surprising at how many people make bets on horse races without the slightest understanding of the tote board. While all of those numbers on the board may seem imposing, the odds and payoffs are actually pretty easy to learn. And by doing so, you will be able to make and calculate better bets.

Reading the Win Odds

The easiest information on the board is the win odds quoted on each horse. They don't tell you what the horse will pay, but the amount of profit you will get and the amount you have to bet to get it.

For example, 6-5 means you will get $6 in profit for every $5 you wager, while 20-1 means you get $20 in profit for every $1 you wager. In the latter example, a bet of $2 means you would get $42 back for a winning wager.

Payoffs use the actual odds and are rounded down to the nearest nickel or dime, depending on the rules at that track. This rounding is called breakage.

Calculating the Win Odds on a Horse

If you want to calculate the exact win odds on a horse, you will need to use a couple of other figures from the tote board:

  • Total win pool
  • Amount bet on that horse

The total pool is all the money bet on all the horses to win, but it is not the amount that will actually be paid out to the holders of winning tickets. Before the track pays off the winners, they deduct the "take," which is generally between 14 and 20 percent and is different in every state. This money goes to pay state and local taxes, payment for the horsemen, expenses at the track, and the track's profit.

To calculate the exact odds on your horse, just subtract the take from the total pool, then subtract the amount bet on your horse to give you the amount of cash to be paid out.

Divide that figure by the amount bet on your horse to get the exact odds. This figure will always be rounded off to the nearest dime (usually) or nickel, as mentioned previously, before the payoffs are calculated.

Here is a simple example of win odds calculation:

Total pool: $900
Amount bet on horse No. 1: $300
Take amount: 15 percent
$900 minus 15 percent equals $765
$765 minus $300 equals $465
$465 divided by $300 equals $1.55

Round this amount off to $1.50 for breakage and you get odds of 1.5-1 or 3-2, as it would normally be written, which yields a payoff of $5 on a wager of $2.

Payoffs for $2 Win Bets

Since most tracks have a $2 minimum bet, below is a handy chart to look up the payoff for a $2 bet at various odds. Remember, your actual payoff may differ from this chart, as the odds on the tote board are rounded off, so 2-1 odds on the tote board may actually be 1.9-1 or 2.2-1. 

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