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What Is Dead Heat Betting?

David Golokhov

by David Golokhov

Updated May 13, 2020 · 11:34 AM PDT

There are many times when sports betting seems like the easiest form of gaming. With sports betting, it’s just one side wins or the other, right? While that’s mostly the case, there are some rare occasions where ties (pushes) come into play. In sports betting parlance, these are called dead heats.

Dead heats are a type of tie, but it’s a little more intricate than that. If you’ve never heard the term before, you can find everything you need to know below.

Let’s examine exactly what it means and explore how dead heats factor into sports betting.

What Is a Dead Heat?

Most ties (also known as pushes) in sports betting are straightforward as they merely result in a refund to the bettor. For example, if you bet on an NFL team to win outright and the game ends in a tie, you get your money back. Pushes happen in betting on the moneyline, totals betting, bets against the spread, as well as parlays.

However, dead heats are when two or more selections have tied, and this is where things get tricky. What typically happens with your bet is the payout is divided by the number of people tied for the position. For example, a two-way tie means that you’d win half of the amount you were originally expecting to win.

Although this may seem confusing for team sports, but think of individual player sports like golf or horse racing. A dead heat in golf or horse racing occurs when multiple options tie for the same position. When multiple options are in a dead heat, how much you stand to win or whether you win at all comes into question.

In Which Sports Does It Happen?

Dead heats mostly refer to golf and horse racing, as they are not a common occurrence across the board in all sports. For example, in sports like boxing, tennis, or even the main team sports where there is just one versus one, you’d never see a dead heat.

The reason dead heats occur primarily in golf, horse racing, and sometimes motorsports is because they each have a slew of competitors jockeying for position. In those sports, it’s possible for multiple people to finish in the same position.

How Often Does It Happen?

In horse racing, dead heats are a rare occurrence. A photo finish—when the zoom lenses blow up the photo—is typically as close as it gets and you’ll most likely see one horse that finished a hair ahead of the other. However, there still is the off chance of a dead heat.

In golf, dead heats occur far more often because golfers can finish with the same score. If there’s ever a tie for first place, the golfers who are in that position will go into a playoff to settle the winner. However, ties are not broken for any other position, so it’s entirely possible that 10 players could tie for fourth and another three tie for 15th and so on.

In golf, you’d almost never find a prop that lets you predict where a player will finish besides first (i.e. you can’t usually bet that a player will finish seventh, 11th, etc.), so where dead heats become relevant is for Top 5 or Top 10 props. We’ll explain further in the next section.

In any type of racing, dead heats are a rarity. In golf betting, it’s a weekly occurrence.

How Are Payouts Determined In Dead Heats?

Payouts are actually sorted out quite easily. Let’s look at the following horse racing example:

Let’s say you bet $20 on Secretariat to finish second, but there are two horses that tied for second. What happens here is your stake is cut in half (since there is a tie between two horses) and then you still get your regular odds. So a $20 bet becomes at $10 bet, but you still earn your 5/1 payout, so you would take home $50 for that bet.

Now let’s take a look at an example with golf:

Let’s say you bet $100 on Rory McIlroy at 18/1 to finish in the Top 5. In this case, he did finish third but as you can see, he finished in a tie for third with four other players. That means technically, three of them finished in the Top 5, but a fourth finished sixth.

What happens, in this case, is that your stake would be multiplied by 3/4 since only three of the four can finish in the Top 5. That means to calculate your payout, you multiply your stake by 3/4 (75%) and then multiply that by your odds.

In this case, your stake becomes $75 (100 x 0.75) and then you multiply that by 18/1, which gives you $1350.

Do Sportsbooks Ever Use Dead Heat Rules to Their Own Advantage?

This is sometimes brought up in conversation, but in reality, it’s a myth. Sportsbooks don’t really take advantage of anything when it comes to dead heats. They have a set of rules that they stick to and will almost always payout using a system that we’ve described above.

However, we’ll take this opportunity to remind you that before you start betting on sports, you should scrutinize your sportsbooks’ terms and conditions.

Brush Up On Your Betting Knowledge Today

Although the concept can seem complex at first, dead heats are in fact fairly simple to understand. They’re just one among many subtleties you’ll have to get a firm grasp on before you become an expert sports bettor.

If you want to learn more about the basics of betting and the fundamentals of betting at online sportsbooks, check out our sports betting 101 section for a complete tour!

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