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A day at the races: Here’s how to figure out betting and odds

Q: Would you explain betting in general at the Kentucky Derby or horse racing? What exactly does it mean to”go off” in 10-1 odds or be a 33-1 long shot?
Ed, of Shiloh
A: Let me break this answer into two components — the what and how — so that if I start burying you with too much info (as I occasionally do) you will have a working understanding of the amounts.
What it means is easy. The odds — 10 to 1, for instance — are merely a ratio or comparison of two amounts. The first number is the total amount of money you’ll win if the horse does exactly what you think it will. The second number is the sum you want to wager to win the first number.So, let’s take your 10-1 instance. What it means is you will receive $10 in winnings for each and every dollar you wager on that horse if it wins. Consequently, if you put a standard $2 bet, you will walk off with $22 — $20 in winnings (2 times 10) plus the return of your initial $2. In the same way, if you are feeling as frisky as a colt and wager $100 on a horse using 33-1 odds, you’ll scoop up $3,400 (33 times 100 in winnings and your first $100). If a horse gets 5-3 odds and you bet $30, you will take home $80 (10 times 5 and the initial $30). That is all there is to it.
Comes the trickier part: What’s all this stuff figured? Why are some horses given nearly even odds — say, 3-to-2 — although others might begin a race (“go off”) at 50-to-1? It is all the result of pari-mutuel gambling, that is the kind of wagering utilized in many horse racing.
Pari-mutuel is just a high-falutin’ French expression that means”mutual stake.” In golf, for instance, players battle each other for a pot of cash offered by a sponsor. But when you bet on the ponies, you’re fighting part of a pool of money that has been wagered by each one the other bettors like yourself. You all have a mutual stake in it as it were.
A couple of things should become evident immediately. The further that bettors prefer Horse A, the more money they are likely to bet on it. Because of this, they’re saying the chances are great it is going to win. But it also means that those gamblers will acquire less per dollar bet because you need to divide the total pool of money among a whole lot of individuals. But if few people are betting on Horse B, they will take home a far bigger pile of cash in case their horse wins because far fewer people are going to have claim to that same pool of money.
And to make matters more interesting, these chances can keep changing from the days leading up to a race. As horse experts find out more about the many factors that go into their choice — the background of their horses and jockeys, injury rumors, weather prediction, etc. — they could start hedging their bets and start laying down money on additional entrances, thus altering the amounts.
Now let me give you an oversimplified example of how the chances are figured. Let us state this year’s Kentucky Derby was a three-horse race involving Fleet o’ Foot, Not So Quick and Beetlebaum. Now, let us say people bought a total of $1,000 on these 3 steeds — $500 on Fleet, $300 on Quick and $200 on Beetlebaum. Here Is What would happen:
To begin with, the folks accepting the bets would take their share off the top because their fee for providing the service — generally 10 percent to 20 percent. Let’s say it is 10 percent. That leaves $900 since the payout to be split among the winning bettors depending on the race outcome.
Today we have to figure what they could win. This is the formulation: The odds for each horse have been calculated by subtracting the total amount bet on that horse from the available payout and dividing the result by the amount bet on that horse. So for Fleet o’ Foot, you would first subtract 500 from 900 to receive 400 and then divide by 500. The resulting chances are 4-to-5, meaning for every dollar you wager, you’d win 80 cents plus your original dollar back should Fleet wins.
Likewise, Not So Quick’s chances would be 2-to-1 (900 minus 300 divided by 300) while Beetlebaum would go off at 7-to-2 (900 minus 200 divided by 200). So the less preferred a horse is, the worse (or”more”) its chances and the greater its payout because theoretically you are assuming more risk if you bet on it.
Real life, of course, isn’t that simple. This year’s Kentucky Derby had 20 horses along with the overall wagers of $139.2 million shattered the previous record of $137.9 million in 2015. Always Dreaming wound up spending $11.40 on a $2 bet to win.
Bettors also wager on a lot more than just wins. In North Americathere are”place” bets that cover if a horse places second or first. (In the Derby, Lookin in Lee compensated $26.60 completing second.) There are also”show” bets that cover if a horses finishes in the top three (Battle of Midway compensated $20.80). Should you think you have a great deal of horse sense, you can risk your money on perfectas, trifectas and superfectas, where you attempt to predict the specific order of finish to your first two, three or even four horses in a race. And so on.
As you may expect, because these bets get increasingly more exotic, the calculations become increasingly complicated although the core principle is the same. Thank goodness modern computers can figure it all out in a gallop.
TODAY’S TRIVIA
Which Kentucky Derby winner had the maximum odds ever?
Answer to Sunday’s trivia: As of January, 31 states nevertheless can impose the death penalty. Four others now have governors who have put a moratorium on its use. All 31 use lethal injection as their primary way of execution but nine can use electrocution, six can use the gas chamber, three can use three and hanging can use the firing squad, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
More numbers to consider: Since 1976, there have been 1,453 executions, reaching a peak of 98 in 1999. This past year, the United States watched 30 sentenced to death and 20 — in five countries — were executed. As of Oct. 1, there were 2,902 offenders on death row (54 women). Since 1973, there were 157 death-row exonerations. Former Gov. Pat Quinn abolished Illinois’ death penalty in March 2011.

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