How to Place a Bet

horse racing toteboard
The toteboard shows the win odds and the win, place, and show pools. Cindy Pierson Dulay

At most tracks and for most bet types, the minimum wager is $2. You are wagering against all the other people at the track, not against "the house" or a bookmaker.  If you win, someone else loses. The track makes money by keeping a percentage from each wager, generally between 15 and 25 percent of the pool depending on the bet type.  Here we will describe how to bet on a single horse in the straight pools (meaning to win, place, or show).



Time Required:

5 minutes

Here's How:

  1. Pick your winner. You wager by the number of the horse and not the name, so be sure to check the program and get his official number. 
  2. Pick your wager. There are many different wagers offered from track to track. The easiest wager to cash in on: a show bet. This means that if the horse you select finishes at least third you win! 
  3. Pick the amount you want to wager. Since this is aimed at beginners, you should probably stick with the minimum of $2.
  4. Go to the window to place your bet and always have your money ready. Most tracks will have a beginner's window so you may want to use that. Make sure you don't get in the $50 minimum line by mistake!  If you are especially nervous, go to the window well in advance of the post time of a race, when there is nobody in line and the tellers are not as much in a hurry and more likely to be helpful. You also want to go early to avoid being "shut out" - one the starter presses the button to start a race, no more bets can be placed on that race.
  1. Tell the teller the track name you want to wager on and the race number. Most tracks will be taking bets on several locations via satellite feed so make sure you tell them which you want.  If you skip this step, the "default" is the next race being run at the track you are physically at. To avoid this mistake, make it a habit to always start with "Woodbine, race 7" before the bet amount.
  1. Tell the teller how much you wish to wager, in this case $2.
  2. Tell the teller what type of bet you selected in #2 above.
  3. Tell the teller the horse's betting number.
  4. Hand your money over.
  5. Get your ticket from the teller, and any change if applicable.
  6. Make sure your ticket is correct before you leave the window. At most tracks once you leave the window you cannot cancel or change a bet, and definitely not after the race has started.
  7. Watch the race and see if you win!
  8. Hold all tickets until the race is official; your horse might finish 4th (in the case of a show bet) but one of the first 3 finishers is disqualified, making your ticket a winner. 


  1. Always have your bets and money ready when you go to the window so you don't hold up the line.  Tellers do not want to start keying in a bet (or worse, actually print out a ticket, which means the bet is in the system) unless they have the money in hand or at the minimum, see it ready to be given.  Otherwise, if they had completed your betting ticket and you suddenly say "uh oh I don't have $2 on me", the teller will have to cancel the ticket, which is more work for him/her and possibly hold up the line further, frustrating the other customers.
  2. Write down your wagers, perhaps in your program, before you go bet. That way you don't get confused and forget your horse's number. This helps you keep a record of how much you wagered for the day. This is especially important if you are placing multiple bets in one visit to the teller.
  1. Occasionally you will see "entries", meaning two or more horses that are owned by the same person; they will appear as horse numbers 1 and 1A or similar.  If you bet on the "1" you are actually getting both horses.  But always be aware of scratches - oftentimes a trainer will enter a 1 and 1A in a race and on raceday, scratch one out of the race.  If you feel that the 1 is a contender and the 1A isn't, you might actually be betting on the 1A alone if the 1 doesn't run.
  2. Eventually you may want to use the self-serve terminals or SAMs, which are the betting equivalent of an ATM.  Read here for instructions on how to use them.
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Your Citation
Dulay, Cindy Pierson. "How to Place a Bet." ThoughtCo, Feb. 15, 2016, Dulay, Cindy Pierson. (2016, February 15). How to Place a Bet. Retrieved from Dulay, Cindy Pierson. "How to Place a Bet." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 20, 2017).