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How To Bet On Horse Races

At Arlington Park Race Track
Northwest of Chicago



Talking about betting on horse racing and "the track" conjurs up images of crusty, old cigar-chomping guys in rumpled clothes who gamble away their last dime on one last race. Nothing could be further from the truth. A trip to a modern-day track is more like a day at the Kentucky Derby with many more families with kids than crusty old losers and there are as many women as men.

Going to the track is a lot of fun for men, women and children of all ages and it doesn't cost much at all. The most common bet only costs $2 and that bet can give you pretty good odds of winning at least something. On this page we'll not only cover how to bet on the races, but how to navigate around the Arlington Park race track.


The Arlington Park Facility


Arlington Park race track is within a few miles of the Woodfield Square shopping mall and the Renaissance Convention Center in Schaumburg. This makes it a perfect alternative activity if you have a family member who wants to spend the day shopping or is attending a trade show or convention. In addition, given that there's a Metra train station ("Arlington Park" station) next to the race track you can get to it easily from downtown Chicago. (It's on Metra's Union Pacific-Northwest line originating at the Ogilvie Transporation Center at 500 West Madison Street. As of this writing the one-way fare is $6.25)

The track is open from May through most of September each year and they hold races Thursday through Sunday and on holidays rain or shine. (You can still enjoy betting on races if it's raining by watching the races from inside the clubhouse.) The most you can expect to pay is around $31 ($8 admission, $3 program, and a $2 bet for each of 10 races) and that assumes you won't win any of your wagers which is highly unlikely. There are some special event days when the admission may be higher ($12 to $30) but there are typically more races or higher purses (such as the "Arlington Million" held in August) on those days. Thursdays are "Value Days" when admission is only $6 ($4 for the 55-and-over crowd and military).
During late May through early September Sundays are Family Day at Arlington Park which features a lot of additional activities for children including pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting and more. Admission for ages 4 through 17 is $4 and kids 3 and under are free.
Arlington Park is located northwest of Chicago in the suburb of Arlington Heights and is in close proximity to three of Chicago's expressways; I-90, I-290, and the I-294 bypass.

Arlington Park Horse Racing
Click to enlarge map

The track is at the intersection of Northwest Highway on the north, Euclid Ave. on the south, and Wilke Rd. on the east. If you search for Arlington Park many sources list the address as 2200 W. Euclid Ave. which is not correct. If you set your GPS to that address you'll end up in the parking lot of Ditka's restaurant on the south side of the Arlington Park grounds. You actually want to enter the driveway on Wilke Rd. (across from the Radio Shack labeled on the map below).

Arlington Park Parking Lot

HOWEVER, because nothing is ever simple, when you enter this driveway you DON'T want to enter the parking lot immediately to your right. That's the parking lot for the Metra train station. Go straight ahead to the free parking area near the east entrance to the track. In the picture below the yellow star is the location of the driveway and the Metra parking lot is full while the track parking lot is almost empty.

Arlington Park Parking Lot Driveway

If you need an address to enter into your GPS you can use the address of the Radio Shack remembering that the driveway you want is across the street. Radio Shack's address is:
843 North Wilke Road
Arlington Heights, Illinois
Once you park your car you can head for the east entrance behind the large flower bed that spells out ARLINGTON. There you pay your $8 admission fee, get your ticket and go through the gate.

Arlington Park Track Entrance
Arlington Park East Entrance
Arlington Park Track Entrance
Admission Ticket Booth and Gate

Once inside the gate you'll see the paddock area (more on that later) straight ahead. As you turn to the left to head toward the clubhouse entrance you'll see a stand where you can buy a program for $3. This is an absolute must so be sure to pick up one of those. NOTE: Don't confuse a program with a racing "form" which is more expensive and sold by the same vendor. Just get the program. (More on programs later too.)

Arlington Park Paddock Area
Paddock Area As Seen
From The East Entrance
Arlington Park Race Program
Program Vendor and
Clubhouse Entrance

When you enter the clubhouse you're on the "apron" level and, as you can see from the diagram below, this is where all the action, from wagering to dining to cheering, takes place.

Arlington Park Race Track Clubhouse

This diagram is not complete or to scale. It's simply to give you a high level orientation to the facility and so you get some idea of where things are located when you look at the photographs on this page.

Earlier we said that the most you can expect to spend is $31. Granted that doesn't include any food or beverages but you don't need to pay for those either. Believe it or not Arlington Park lets you bring in food and non-alcoholic beverages. You just can't partake of them inside the clubhouse. They have to be consumed outside.

You can enjoy your food and beverage anywhere outside. However, there are several areas where you can get together with friends and family and have a full-blown picnic. One area is the grassy picnic area just to the east of the grandstand labeled on the above diagram. There are several picnic tables here as well as a fair amount of green space to put down a blanket. and the area. Note that next to the area is a roped-off area with a lot of picnic tables. This area is reserved.

All non-reserved grandstand areas, including picnic areas, are first-come, first-served.

The other picnic areas are just outside the clubhouse entrances on the grandstand side of the clubhouse. Outside of most of these entrances in the upper grandstand area are rows of several small, square, white tables with white, plastic chairs. These disappear early as people will show up and claim a whole row by sliding all the tables together to create one big picnic table and bring in crock-pots and foil pans full of food.

Arlington Park Picnic Area
Picnic Area Next
To Grandstand
Arlington Park Tables
Tables and Chairs In
Upper Grandstand Area

The admission gate typically opens a couple hours before the first post time so plan accordingly if you want to get one of these picnic areas. Go to their Web site at:

www.arlingtonpark.com

and click on the Calendar tab. On the calendar you can click on any day and it will give you the post time of the first race and time the admission gates open. Racing takes place from May through most of September.

Near the east end of the upper grandstand under a green and white awning is Arlington University (AU). Here you can ask quetions on types of bets, using the betting machines, and horse racing in general.

Arlington Park University
AU In The Upper Grandstand
Arlington Park Grandstand
Granstand Seating

With the grandstand on one side of the clubhouse, the opposite side has a balcony that overlooks the paddock circle.

Arlington Park Paddock Balcony
Balcony Side of Clubhouse
Overlooking the Paddock Area
Arlington Park Paddock Circle
The Paddock Area from the Balcony
(East Entrance in the Background)

Now that you have a feel for the what the facilities are like it's time to cover why you're in the facilities, betting on the races!


How To Bet On A Horse Race


Betting on horse races is incredibly easy and cheap. Here are the 4 (5 if you're lucky) simple steps (we'll cover each step in detail):

  1. Look at the next race in your program and figure out which horse you want to bet on.
  2. Determine the type of bet you're going to place.
  3. Go to a self-service terminal or live teller wagering window and place your bet.
  4. Watch the race.
  5. Cash out.
1. Picking Your Horse

Figuring out what horse to bet on is why we need the program. The program gives us a lot of information. It lists the horses in each race, what number the horse will be wearing, what color "silks" the jockey will be wearing, the horses owner and (more importantly) the trainer and the trainer's winning percentage, and much, much more information.

In the example horse shown below the horse (Tiz Sexy Now) has odds of 5:1, will be wearing the red number 1, the jocky will be wearing gold and white silks, the horses owner is Miles Childers and LTB Inc., the trainer is Bernard Flint and his winning percentage is 33.3%.

Arlington Park Betting Machine
Click page for a PDF of the full race

The program also gives you the horses odds of winning at the time the program was printed which has likely changed. Wagering on horse races is "pari-mutuel" betting meaning you're not playing against "the house" like you are in a casino. You're playing against all your fellow bettors. A horses odds of winning are determined in part by you and are not truly established until all the bets are placed. To get a better idea of a horses odds closer to race time you'll want to look at one of the many TV monitors around the facility. These monitors will also show which, if any, horses have been "scratched" (removed) from the race which will also change the odds. Up-to-the-minute odds and any scratches are also shown on the self-service betting terminals. Here is a list of odds you'll see in your program and their progession from best chance of winning to least likely.
2-1
5-2 (2.5-1)
3-1
7-2 (3.5-1)
4-1
9-2 (4.5-1)
5-1
6-1
7-1
and higher = lesser chance of winning
In addition to using the program some people like to look at the horses so see if any of them look especially peppy or, on the other end, lethargic. You can go down to the paddock area about 15 minutes before "post time" (the time the race starts) and get an up-close look at the horses and their jockeys.

Arlington Park Betting Paddock Circle

The horses then go under the clubhouse onto the track and walk around to the starting gates.

Arlington Park Betting Paddock Circle

2. Determine The Type of Bet

Next you have to determine what bet you're going to place. Since we're at the track to have fun we're going to place the type of bet and that's the bet that gives us the best odds of winning most of the time. Granted you won't win much but that's the nature of wagering; the more likely you are to win the less money you're going to win and the less likely you are to win the more money you're going to win. Even though we're going to place the bet that gives us the best odds of winning it still only costs us $2.

You may have hear the phrase "win, place and show." In horse racing "win" means coming in first, "place" means coming in second, and "show" means coming in third. However, there are also win/place/show bets that you can make and they mean something a little different.
A Win bet means you win if your horse comes in first.
A Place bet means you win if your horse comes in first or second.
A Show bet means you win if your horse comes in first or second or third.
Each of these bets cost $2 so why doesn't everyone always place the Show bet since that gives us the best odds of winning? Because as we said above, the better the odds the lower the payout. Here's an example payout chart for each type of bet. The payout ammounts are just estimates because the actual amounts depend on the odds which, as we said earlier, aren't determined until race time. You see that if you place a Show bet and your horse comes in third you only win 10 cents. But hey, what other recreational activity pays your to have fun?

Your horse
came in:
Payout for a
$2 Win bet:
Payout for a
$2 Place bet:
Payout for a
$2 Show bet:
1st 6.80 $4.60 $2.40
2nd   $4.20 $2.20
3rd     $2.10

The Show bet is the best-odds, lowest-payout bet. If you're a little more sure of the horse you picked you can try to increase your winnings with a lower-odds Place or Win bet. Taking the list of odds from above here are the payouts for a $2 Win bet:
2-1 - $6
5-2 (2.5-1) - $7
3-1 - $8
7-2 (3.5-1) - $9
4-1 - $10
9-2 (4.5-1) - $11
5-1 - $12
6-1 - $14
7-1 - $16
There are ten other bets you can place including a trifecta and extacta bets but those are beyond the scope of beginning betting and this page. However, they are spelled out near the front of the program and you can get more information on how to place them at the Arlington University stand on the upper grandstand.

3. Place Your Bet

Once you've got your horse picked out and the type of bet you want to place on that horse it's time to place the bet. You can do that using a terminal or a human teller. Both are at located at the "betting windows" on the floor plan diagram above. In addition, terminals are located in a lot of other places including near the paddock under the balcony and on the upper grandstand.

Arlington Park Betting Terminals and Windows

Most people new to the track like to use a human teller because the terminals can be a little intimidating. However, even if you use a teller you have to know how to give your bet to the teller. The information has to be given in a specific order like so:
  1. The race number
  2. The Amount you want to bet
  3. The Type of bet
  4. The number of the horse
For example, you'd walk up to the teller and say "Third race, $2 to show on number 5." Make sure you get this right because the tellers are very busy, especially right before a race. The problem with tellers is they usually have very long lines.

Arlington Park Betting Terminal

The quickest and most convenient way of placing your bet is using one of the self-serve terminals that are nearly everywhere, (They also give you the latest odds and scratches so you don't have to find a TV monitor.) Most terminals accept cash, credit/debit cards and vouchers (more on those later). Be aware that not all terminals accept cash. The ones that do have a '$' sign above them.

Arlington Park Betting Machine

Simply touch the screen and the terminal willdisplay the next race. Notice the tabs across the top of the screen. They need a little translating:
"Event" = the track (you can place bets for other tracks at Arlington).
"Race" and "Amount" are self-explanatory.
"Pool" = the type of bet.
"Runners" = the horses which are listed on the left side of the screen.
Because the terminal automatically picked Arlington as the track and the next available race it comes up at the Amount tab. Just touch the $2 button and touch the Next button which takes you to the Pool screen.

Arlington Park Betting Machine

On the Pool screen in the "Simple Pools" section touch the Show button and then the Next button which takes you to the Runners screen.

Arlington Park Betting Machine

On the Runners screen touch the number of the horse you want to bet on and then touch the Next button.

Arlington Park Betting Terminal

The next screen shows a summary of your bet in the white box with the big, green Accept Bet button enabled. Touch that and you'll be prompted to fund the bet by inserting cash or a card or a voucher.

Arlington Park Race Ticket

The machine will then print out your ticket for the race. Don't lose this ticket because if you win you can't collect without it. The above ticket shows the race (4), bet amount ($2) and type (SHW), and horse (The No. 8 horse Super Twenty Three).

4. Watch The Race

With your horse picked and bet type chosen and bet placed there's nothing left to do but sit back and watch them run to see if you're going to be a winner. You can watch the race out on the grandstand in one of seats or even on the rail, or you can watch it on one of the many TV monitors inside the clubhouse.

Arlington Park Track

The physical length of the races varies. All of them finish in front of the grandstand but a lot of them start on the back side of the track. Most of the full-track races that start in front of the grandstand are later in the afternoon.

5. Cash Out

If your horse finished in the top three and you placed a Show bet you've got to go cash in your ticket. Don't be in a hurry to do that though. The race results have to be made official before any payouts can be made and that takes a couple minutes.

Also, you don't have to bet! If you don't feel like betting any more or you had a good winning streak and you don't want to press your luck there's no reason you can't stop betting. You can stay at the track and watch the races without betting. There's three ways of cashing out:
  1. Put the ticket in a self-service terminal so a voucher gets printed.
  2. Put the ticket in a cash dispenser terminal.
  3. Give the ticket to a teller to exchange it for cash.
You only use the last two options when you're done betting for the day. If you want to bet on upcoming races put your ticket in a self-service terminal and a voucher will get printed out. (The terminal will keep your winning ticket.)

A voucher looks just like a ticket except it has the word "VOUCHER" printed across it. Look at your losing tickets carefully before throwing them away to make sure you're not throwing away a voucer. I put my losing tickets in a terminal all the time simply because it's easy to lose track of your bets with all the races going on. If it's not a winner the terminal will let you know.

When you are done for the day you can use one of the cash dispenser terminals located by the betting windows. These terminals will take single or multiple winning tickets and/or vouchers and give you cash in return.

Arlington Park Track

You can also go to a teller window to cash out.



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