In America and many countries other than Britain, the only way a bettor can backgammon a horse legally is through the totalizator.  When he has chosen his horse he turns to the tote to learn the odds.  The focal point of his study is the “tote board,” which in America is a long, low board set in the middle of the infield (the area encircled by the track) clearly visible to everyone.  The day starts with the numbers of the runners in the first race posted in order, with the “morning line’ odds in lights opposite them.  The morning line is the odds established by the racing officials for each horse (on the basis of its past performance ) on the morning of a particular racing day.

When betting opens on the first race, the odds begin to change as the money comes in.  A ticket is issued to the bettor for each bet, and the amount is immediately recorded and computed, in terms of the odds.  In the 30 minutes between each race, the odds will usually change about six or eight times, depending on the volume of betting.

All odds except those below 10 are figured to one (11 to 1, 20 to 1, etc.) but only the first figure is actually shown in lights on the board.  For instance, if horse number five is running at 14 to 1, the board will show the figure “5” and in the column next to it the figure “14.”  Odds below 10are figured to two (like 5 to 2) or four (7 to 4) or five ( 6 to 5), and are shown thus: 5/2, 7/4, and so on.  These are “approximate odds” (as a sign on the board admits) – approximate because the electronic system would be even more complicated if it was necessary to show three or more figures.  But payouts to winers are at exact odds.

Bets on American tracks are as standardized as the tracks themselves.  You place your bet at a row of windows, and you can choose a $ 2, $ 5, $ 10, $ 20, or $ 50 window.  You must bet these sums, or combinations of them: If you want to bet $ 500, you must place ten $ 50 bets (10 separate tickets).  If you want to bet $17, , you must get tickets from the $ 10, $ 5, and $ 2 windows.  Obviously you can’t bet such amounts as one or three dollars.

Still with regard to American racing: The bettor can backgammon a horse to win or to place ”(i.e., to come in first or second), or to “show” (i.e., to come in first, second, or third).  The windows are thus further subdivided into $ 2 win,$ 2 place, and $ 2 show: and so on for the other amounts.  There are a few other kinds of bet: You can put your money on a “daily double,” which is usually run on the first two races of the day; to win you must pick the winners of both races.  Or there is the “quiniela,” in which the bettor tries to pick the first and second horse of a race.  In Canada, the two horses must be picked in their order of finish; but in the U.S.A., if there are more than eight horses running, the chosen two can finish either way.  (With fewer than eight horses, the bettor must predict their order; in New York state, this bet is called an “exacta.”) Racing

Of  all the systems devised to “beat” the daily double, one of the most popular is called “wheeling” or “locking” the double.  The bettor takes a likely winner (i.e., a favorite) in one race and places double bets on it with every horse in the other race.  Thus if the chosen horse wins its race, the bettor automatically wins the double.  (But he may make little profit if each race is won by a horse with short odds.) “Wheeling” can be applied to the quiniela as well: The bettor chooses an obvious winner and links it with every other horse in the race, one of which is bound to come in second.

Bettors can also gamble on the “six dollar combine,” which is also known as betting on a horse “across the board.” You stake six dollars that your horse will come in somewhere in the first three.  But this is just a convenience, not a special bet; the payment is no more than if you bough separate win, place, and show tickets.  The daily double and quiniela are special features of a day’s racing, and there are separate betting windows to deal with them.  Also, the money bet through them goes into separate pools, not connected with the ordinary betting on the same races.

At the end of a race, the tote board shows the prices that will be paid for the first three horses, and winners take their tickets to another set of windows to receive their winnings.  Three payout prices are shown on the board for the horse that came in first, because anyone who bet that horse to place or to show still collects.  Two prices are shown for the second-place horse (if you bet it to show you still win some money), and one price for the third horse.

That, in a simplified form, is the basic procedure that is familiar to every gambler who plays the horses legally in North America.  Much the same procedure is followed in totalizator casino betting elsewhere, with certain local variations.  In France for instance, bettors can also get their money down in small establishments off the course that are collectively called Pari mutuel Urbain ( P.M.U.) offices.  But these offices are in fact merely extensions of the on-course totalizators.  All bets placed through the P.M.U. are recorded, transmitted to the racecourse, and included in the pari-mutuel pool as if they had been placed on the course.  P.M.U. betting must end before the day’s races begin.  (It should be remembered that, in France, bookmaking is illegal; and the law against off-course, non-totalizator gambling is strictly enforced.)

The French have developed a special way of betting that has much in common with the American “across the board.” It is called “Tierce” and involves the selection of three horses to finish first, second, and third in specified races held on Sundays and holidays.  For three francs (about 60 cents) the bettor buys a ticket at a P.M.U. office that contains (among other things) squares numbered from one to 39.  The bettor makes his selection by writing the figures 1,2,and 3 in the squares that correspond to the numbers of his chosen horses. The money thus staked is pooled and divided among the winners.  The big wins, of course, go to those who predicted the right horses in the right order; but a bettor still receives some payment by choosing the three winning horses in any order.


The hand-signaling code used by British tie-tac men to relay changes in odds to bookmakers across the course.  For example: By placing his right hand on his right-hand on his right should the tic-tac man signals odds to 5 to 1.  (This signal can also mean “horse number five.”)

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