What are jackpot wagers, and how do you win one?

March 7th, 2021

Perhaps you’ve heard about jackpot-style wagers and the huge payoffs they can produce. Perhaps you’ve read stories about bettors cashing six-figure paydays after spending $20 or less. Perhaps you want to get in on the action.

But what is a jackpot-style wager, and how do you win one? Unlike most wagers in horse racing, it’s not quite as simple as constructing a ticket with all the right horses in all the right places. Putting together a winning ticket isn’t enough—to claim the full jackpot, you must hold the only winning ticket on the day.

How does it work?

The nuances of jackpot wagers vary slightly from track to track, but the general rules are always the same. Let’s say you’re betting a jackpot-style Pick 6, the most widespread type of jackpot wager. The goal is to pick six winners in a row—difficult, but not impossible.

Now let’s say bettors place their wagers, and after the track takeout is deducted, the remaining pool totals $100,000. The sequence unfolds with a mix of favorites and longshots reaching the winner’s circle, and at the end of the day, 10 bettors hold winning tickets. With a traditional Pick 6, the winning bettors would split the $100,000 evenly, each taking home $10,000.

But a jackpot-style Pick 6 follows a different set of rules. If multiple winning tickets are sold, only a certain percentage of the pool is split among winning bettors—as a consolation payoff, if you will. The remainder is placed in the “jackpot,” an ever-increasing prize pool set aside for those rare days when a lone winning ticket is sold.

How does the jackpot carryover build?

Let’s say a racetrack saves 30% of the daily pool for consolation payoffs while 70% is added to the jackpot. In our example above, the 10 winning bettors would split $30,000 for a payoff of $3,000, while $70,000 would be set aside as the jackpot for the next racing day.

Following this train of thought, let’s say the next racing day arrives, and the $70,000 jackpot carryover attracts $130,000 in new wagers. If the sequence unfolds and 10 bettors cash winning tickets, then they’ll split 30% of the daily pool ($39,000 out of $130,000) for payoffs of $3,900 apiece, while 70% of the daily pool ($91,000 out of $130,000) will be added to the jackpot, which swells to $161,000 ($70,000 + $91,000). Thus, jackpot carryovers can steadily accumulate in this manner, sometimes surpassing the seven-figure mark.

What is a mandatory payout day?

Suppose weeks or months go by and no one manages to construct a unique winning ticket—how does the jackpot finally get dispersed? From time to time (often on the last day of a race meet), racetracks will schedule mandatory payout days. This means the entire jackpot pool is dispersed equally among winning bettors, regardless of how many tickets are sold.

On mandatory payout days, it’s not uncommon for Pick 6 pools at major tracks to swell beyond $5 million. Of course, with so much money in play, hundreds of winning tickets are typically sold, and successful bettors receive only a fraction of the total pool. But the payoffs can still be respectable—in the four-figure or five-figure range—and pursuing jackpot carryovers on mandatory payout days is a popular strategy for many bettors.

Now that you understand the ins and outs of jackpot-style wagers, why not check out the latest jackpot carryovers up for grabs and take aim at a sequence or two? Assemble the right combination of longshots, and you might just sweep the whole pool!