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The History of Parimutuel Betting

How It Works


When you gamble in the casino on most casino games, other than poker, you are wagering against the house. When you bet on a horse or dog race (also jai lai) you are not playing against the house. Instead you are making a parimutuel wager and are in essence betting against all the other players wagering on that event.

The entire money bet on the event goes into a large pool. The holders of winning tickets divide the total amount of money bet on the race (the pool), after deductions for tax and racetrack expenses. The money take out is similar to the rake taken out by the pot in a poker game played in the card room. However unlike the small rake in poker, in the parimutuel pool this “rake” can amount to 15 – 25 percent of the total prize pool.

Most players visiting the track or off track betting facilities have little knowledge of the history behind parimutuel betting. Because the modern day facilities use computer calculations that are displayed on large electronic “Tote” boards players may think that this form of wagering is fairly new. The history of parimutuel betting goes back quite a few years.

The Beginning
Parimutuel betting is credited to Pierre Oller a French perfume shop keeper who in 1865 had the idea in to sell tickets on a horse race and keep all the proceeds in a common prize pool to be split amongst the winners. (Parimutuel means betting between ourselves) After the race was over Pierre would take a five percent handling charge and then distribute the rest to bettors based on the odds established by the bets made on each horse. Pierre set up his wagering system in the racing parks and by 1887 parimutuel wagering became the legalized form of betting in France.

Around 40 years later in 1927 after proposals led by Sir Winston Churchill, the English Parliament passed legislation establishing parimutuel wagering as the legal betting system at all tracks in the country. Around the same time parimutuel wagering was adopted at race track in the United States.

Electronic Calculations
Around that time a young engineer name Henry Straus left a Maryland racetrack angry over the payoff he received during a race. He bet a horse with posted odds of 12-1 but only collected 4-1 on his winning ticket. At the time there was much corruption at track around the country as odds were calculated by hand.

Straus along with some fellow engineers founded the American Totalisator company (AmTote) and invented an electro-mechanical device which would accurately calculate the odds of a race and assure an honest payout while displaying the odds on a lager electronic board. The first machine was installed at Pimlico race track in 1930.

Today the odds are calculated by faster computers and the tracks may take a slightly bigger percentage of the pool but parimutuel betting remains the same as it was over 100 years ago.

Until Next time remember:
Luck comes and goes.....Knowledge Stays Forever.

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