A dead heat is when two or more participants in a given event tie. This is different to a draw in that the tie will not have featured on the original betting options. The application of dead heat rules occasionally varies slightly from bookmaker to bookmaker and sport to sport but can often lead to a smaller payout than the bettor was expecting if they are unaware of the rule.
The rule itself is very simple and means that only a certain portion of your bet is classed as a winning bet. In the event of two (for example) horses, finishing in a dead heat, half your stake is settled as a winner and half as a loser whilst if three horses cannot be separated just one third of the stake wins, with the majority being settled as a losing bet.
Dead heats in horse racing are perhaps the simplest form of a dead heat and it is quite straightforward to understand the underlying logic. If the horses cannot be separated, even by a photo finish, then the bookie has to pay out on both of them as winners, however, as effectively they “shared” the win, the bookie only pays out on the half that has been deemed to have won.
However, dead heat rules can apply to a variety of sports and markets and one of the more common ones is each way bets in golf. If you back a player each way, with the place part paying ¼ the odds for a top four finish, your player can finish second and yet you may still not get the full payout you were expecting. If the player finishes joint second, tied with six other golfers (an unlikely but far from implausible scenario) then effectively those golfers can be classed as finishing second through to eighth inclusive. Only second, third and fourth are winners, whilst fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth have lost. As such, despite finishing joint second, only three sevenths of the stake will be classed as winning, the majority being settled as a losing bet.
A simpler example may concern betting on who the top scorer in the Premier League or a major tournament will be. At the 2012 Euros, six players tied on three goals for the top goalscorer and so several punters who expected good returns on the likes of Alan Dzagoev, Mario Gomez and Fernando Torres actually may have returned less than their stake as five sixths of the bet was actually settled as a loser. This matter was confused further by the differential between the top scorer and the Golden Boot award, Torres wining the latter due to his assist and limited playing time. Any bets placed on the Golden Boot would settle Torres as sole winner but as almost all bookmakers priced up top scorer we saw a six-way dead heat.
Like most things in life, the dead heat rule is simple when you know about it so whenever you place a bet that could involve a tie, be aware that you may not always win, even if your selection finishes first!