A Calcutta Auction is an open auction held in conjunction with a golf tournament, horse race, or similar contest with multiple entrants. It is popular in Backgammon and is currently enjoying rising popularity for NCAA Basketball pools during March Madness.Bidding for each contestant begins in random order, with only one contestant being bid upon at any time. Accordingly, participants (originally in Calcutta, India, from where this technique was first recorded by the Colonial British) bid among themselves to “buy” each of the contestants, with each contestant being assigned to the highest bidder. The contestant will then pay out to the owner a predetermined proportion of the pool depending on how it performs in the tournament. While variations in payoff schedules exist, in an NCAA Basketball tournament (64 teams, single elimination) the payoffs could resemble the following schedule: 1 win – 0.25%, 2 wins – 2%, 3 wins – 4%, 4 wins – 8%, 5 wins – 16%, tournament winner with 6 wins – 32%.
The most interesting element of Calcutta Auctions is in determining an appropriate wager for each contestant, as the payoff will directly hinge on the size of the pot and thereby the size of the bids being placed. Thus the value of each team fluctuates during the course of the betting. For example, even if a bidder knew the Tar Heels would be the tournament winner and thus pay out 32% of the pool, she would still be unsure of the exact value of the team (unless it was the last team being bid on) as the payout would depend on the sum total of all winning bids.
This is similar to parimutuel betting, in that the winnings are awarded from the total pool of bets, but differs in that only one player can bet on any one contestant. However, a player may purchase as many contestants as they desire.
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