Rule 4

Rule 4

Rule 4 is a way in which bookmakers account for late withdrawals in races and the impact this has on the odds of the remaining competitors. Punters who aren’t aware of the rule or don’t understand it fully may well believe they are being “had” or that the bookie is in some way cheating them but, as we will explain, Rule 4 is actually a fair and long-established method of adjusting the odds.

As well as believing Rule 4 to be unfair, many punters also wrongly believe it is complex, indeed too complex for them to fully understand. Rather than being aware of exactly how the rule will impact them and understanding why they have received the payout they have, some bettors are happy to simply wait until they receive their winnings and accept whatever they get.

Here we will show that Rule 4 is far from complex, as well as explaining why it exists, how it works and when it applies and in this way we hope to show you that Rule 4 is actually just a simple and efficient method of dealing with a particular set of circumstances within the world of gambling.

Tattersalls Committee Rules on Betting, Rule 4(c)

Having just tried to persuade you that Rule 4 is actually nice and simple, we’ve decided to instantly confuse matters by giving you its full name: Tattersalls Committee Rules on Betting, Rule 4(c). The Tattersalls Committee Rules on Betting were established well over 100 years ago in 1886 but have been updated many times since, most recently in 2010, in order to stay relevant to modern horse racing (although Rule 4 applies to dog racing and even to other sports too) and modern betting.

The rules are quite lengthy, although there are technically just 12 of them. Rule 4, and more specifically Rule 4(c) is, however, the only part of the document (which can be viewed in its entirety on the Tattersalls Committee website) that the average punter is ever likely to have any dealings with. That said, Rule 10 concerns dead heats, which we also have an in-depth feature on, whilst Rule 12 is the classic catch-all disclaimer rule which states that “The decision of a simple majority of Tattersalls Committee will be final in the event of any unforeseen or extraordinary circumstance not covered by these Rules on Betting”.

Rule 4 Deductions

Returning to the issue at hand, Rule 4(c) states:

"Where a bet has been placed and a price taken on the day of the race and there is subsequently an official notification that a horse has been withdrawn or has been declared ‘not to have started’, the liability of a layer against any horse remaining in the race, win or place, will be reduced in accordance with the following scale depending on the odds current against the withdrawn horse at the time of such official notification:" 

Beneath this passage is a Rule 4 table which shows the relevant deductions based on the odds of the withdraw runners, the details of which are (all deductions listed as pence in the pound). To help you understand these numbers, we have also included the returns of an example bet of £10 at odds of 4/1 both with and without a single rule 4 deduction (the odds in the left hand column refers to the odds of the horse that has withdrawn, not the horse you have bet on).

(p in £)
£10 Bet At 4/1
Profit Without Rule 4
£10 Bet At 4/1
Profit With Rule 4
1/9 or less 90p £40.00 £4.00
2/11 to 2/17 85p £40.00 £6.00
1/4 to 1/5 80p £40.00 £8.00
3/10 to 2/7 75p £40.00 £10.00
2/5 to 1/3 70p £40.00 £12.00
8/15 to 4/9 65p £40.00 £14.00
8/13 to 4/7 60p £40.00 £16.00
4/5 to 4/6 55p £40.00 £18.00
20/21 to 5/6 50p £40.00 £20.00
Evens to 6/5 45p £40.00 £22.00
5/4 to 6/4 40p £40.00 £24.00
8/5 to 7/4 35p £40.00 £26.00
9/5 to 9/4 30p £40.00 £28.00
12/5 to 3/1 25p £40.00 £30.00
16/5 to 4/1 20p £40.00 £32.00
9/2 to 11/2 15p £40.00 £34.00
6/1 to 9/1 10p £40.00 £36.00
10/1 to 14/1 5p £40.00 £38.00
Over 14/1 No Deduction £40.00 £40.00

In simple English, what this all means is that if you take a price on a horse and other horses subsequently withdraw from the race, your payout will be reduced should your bet win. That, in a single, simple sentence is the core meaning of Rule 4, with the table above showing how your payout will be reduced in line with the odds of the withdrawn horse or horses.

What Happens If More Than One Horse Withdraws?

The above deductions should make perfect sense in the case where one horse has withdrawn from a race. But what happens of multiple horses withdraw from the same race, are rule 4 deductions cumulative?

The answer here is yes, but with a "but". Rule 4 deductions are calculated on top of each other so if two horses withdrew which had deductions of 20p and 30p, your cumulative deductions would be 50p. However, total deductions will never exceed 90p in the pound.

Cumulative Rule 4 Example:

  1. You place a £10 bet at odds of 4/1 on Horse A.
  2. Horse B withdraws from the race and had odds of 3/1 for a deduction of 25p.
  3. Horse C also withdraws from the race and had odds of 6/1 for a deduction of 10p.
  4. The cumulative rule 4 deductions for the race are 25p + 10p = 35p.
  5. If your horse wins, you would receive £26 in profit instead of £40 had there been no deductions (£40 - 35%).

Why is Rule 4 Necessary?

Rule 4 allows bookmakers to factor withdrawn horses into their payouts and whilst this may seem unfair to the uninitiated it should be noted that this rule is not created by individual bookmakers but applies equally across the entire industry. Some punters may feel the fact they have a betting slip, online or otherwise, that states they have backed the winner at 10/1 means that, fair and square, they should be paid out at 10/1. Withdrawals happen, so the punter would argue, and this is just unfortunate for the bookmaker, who should honour the bet which was legitimately struck with an early price accepted.

However, when a horse withdraws from a race the bookie refunds all of those stakes placed on the subsequently withdrawn horse. This, for those loving the exciting Tattersalls rules information, is covered by Rule 4(b). If withdrawals are part and parcel of racing, would the same bettor demanding a full payout be happy to accept not getting their money back if their horse had withdrawn from the race? Imagine you had a rock solid betting tip on which you had staked just about everything you’ve got. It withdraws just before the start of the race, for whatever reason, and the bookie simply smiles, shrugs his shoulders and keeps your money.

Whilst this is the scenario with ante post bets, struck anything from a full year to a day or so in advance (unless there is a Non-Runner No Bet offer from the bookie), for “normal” day of race bets, bets on horses which then withdraw are voided and stakes are returned. It would, quite simply, not be possible for the bookie to do this if they didn’t then make allowances for the withdrawn horse when it comes to paying out on the race and nor would it be fair to expect them to. Of course, it’s worth noting that Rule 4 doesn’t apply to ante post bets, as we shall explain later.

Withdrawals Change the Odds and Probabilities

To illustrate why Rule 4 is necessary, aside from the purely financial perspective of the bookie, let us look at an extreme example. Imagine there is a three horse race in which there is a huge favourite priced at odds of 1/7, a second favourite priced at 6/1 and a real outsider on offer at 33/1. An hour or so before the race you have a bet on the second favourite, let’s call him Mad Dog, and you take the bookie’s price of 6/1. The favourite, let’s call him Dan Starrodge, turns out to be an injury prone animal and is lame, the trainer withdrawing him.

The bookmaker voids a huge number of bets on the favourite, returning cash to grateful punters, Dan Starrodge having proved popular in the market. Now, however, the bookmakers have a significant liability on the second favourite, with virtually nobody at all having fancied the outsider, Ugly Betty Windsor.

Our race is now a two horse, not a three horse, contest and Mad Dog, previously a relatively distant second favourite, is now a strong favourite. Previously Mad Dog had, perhaps, around a 14% chance of winning the race, based on the odds but now, as the odds on favourite, he has a much better than 50% chance of winning the race, the only opposition being the no-hoper, Ugly Betty Windsor.

Would it really be fair to expect to get 6/1 on a horse with an 80% or even 90% or higher chance of winning? If you’ve backed Mad Dog you may well argue that you took the price and it is indeed fair. Ultimately though the issue still reverts back to the principle that where the bookie refunds stakes for withdrawals, they must equally reduce the payouts on the remaining horses to reflect the new market and the new probabilities of the remaining runners. Bets on non-runners can, effectively, only be voided (and returned) because of Rule 4 and this is the best way to understand and think about the rule.

So, for each time you may bemoan a Rule 4 deduction, remember with gratitude the times you have had your bet refunded on a non-runner and equally think of all the punters who have had their stakes returned on the very race that you have been affected on.

How Does Rule 4 Apply?

Clearly the withdrawal of a horse at short odds has more impact on who will win a given race than the withdrawal of a huge outsider. In our example above, had it been Ugly Betty Windsor who was withdrawn the impact on the market would have been minimal, with her absence having only a limited impact on both the relative chances of the remaining runners and also the market itself and hence the bookies’ liabilities.

Rule 4, as the table above shows, takes this into account, such that withdrawals at shorter odds see a bigger reduction in the payout, whilst long odds withdrawals see little, or, in the case of runners priced at odds longer than 14/1, no reduction.

Rule 4 is expressed as pence in the pound, though it can equally be viewed in percentage terms. Once again, considering our three horse example above, the favourite was priced at 1/7, equating to the second highest deduction possible, 85p. As such for every £1 you should have got in winnings you will, sadly, get just 15p (as well as your full stake). Of course, whilst this may seem very unfair, it should be remembered that your horse was quite unlikely to win to start with and, more than likely, was only victorious due to the withdrawal of the shorter priced horse.

90p is the highest deduction that can be made via Rule 4, regardless of how many horses are withdrawn and their odds. It should also be noted that many of the best racing sites will often waiver the lowest 5p deduction for Rule 4 and, where a relative outsider is the only withdrawal, pay out at full odds. That might not seem like a huge concession but should you land a big winner, 5p in the pound can easily add up to something substantial, so such offers are not to be sniffed at.

Bets Exempt From Rule 4: Ante Post & Starting Price

As already mentioned, ante post bets are exempt from Rule 4 and the reason for this is very simple. As previously touched upon, bets on non-runners in ante post markets are not voided or refunded and because of this Rule 4 is not needed. If things go well for you this can mean you get great value, with the withdrawal of one or more key contenders potentially leaving your bet on an outsider looking like great value at huge odds, odds untouched by Rule 4.

Of course, the flip side of this is that should your horse be withdrawn you’ll lose your stake, although especially in big races such as the Championship contests at Cheltenham and the Grand National, offers such as “Non-Runner No Bet” are a great bonus that give you the best of both worlds. Such promotions mean you can claim big ante post odds but if your horse doesn’t go to post you’ll get your stake refunded.

Note that Rule 4 also won’t apply to bets placed at the SP, quite simply because the Starting Price will always be adjusted to take into account any non-runners. The SP is determined by the horses that make it to post and so withdrawals and non-runners are already factored into this price. The only exception to this is when a very, very late withdrawal occurs and there isn’t sufficient time for the market to be reformed.