Football and other professional sports pools are popular in various forms throughout the whole world, including areas where they are illegal. In Great Britain and several other countries, football pools are in effect a national lottery, with the government taking more than 30 percent of total receipts!
Prizes have been as high as £100,000 on a shilling bet (about 5p sterling) with gambling winnings not being taxed. Usually the bettor's task is to select the winning teams or tie games (draws) or to predict the correct score in several specified games. An American baseball pool called "13" has players taking 1 of 26 teams, the pool going to the holder of the first team that scores 13 runs in one game.
In some football pools competitions, the selection of winners is made more difficult by handicapping: inferior teams are allotted a certain number of points (point spread), which the other team's winning margin must surpass in order to score a win in the pool. Payoffs range from 3 to 1 when the actual odds are 15 or 16 to 1 and up to 100 to 1 when the actual odds are 300 to 1. The largest payoffs are made when the odds are as much as 250,000,000 to 1 against the bettor. Such winnings have occurred in Great Britain only as often as might mathematically be expected, considering that about 150,000,000 such bets are made each year.
All of the money staked is placed in a pool. The organisers and various others take their share before the remainder is divided amongst the winners. The consequence is that less than 30% of the stake money is returned to the gambler. This form of gambling also means that, unlike a bet placed with a bookmaker, the return on the investment is not known in advance. In fact it is impossible to judge the monetory return, not only because the total number of participants is unknown, but because there can be several winners with the same correct winning forecast. In such circumstances the top prize is shared.
The principal attractions of the football pools seem to be the application of 'skill and judgement' to the prediction of results, and the lure of the potentially huge prizes. Up until the 1940s the 'Penny Points' coupon, so called because each line on the coupon cost a penny, was the most popular kind of pool's entry. However the 'Treble Chance' football pool was introduced in 1946 and now accounts for the vast majority of the money staked. There are minor pools for home win, away win and draw predictions.
Football pools are able to operate all year round by making use of both British and Australian football matches. There are currently some 10 million people playing the pools each week in the United Kingdom, and around £15 million is spent by the public on the search for those elusive football matches which will result in a draw.