The Tote. Betting different

Tote Racing logo in red

The early years of the Tote

Tote racing or simply “The Tote” as it’s known to its followers may seem like a bit of an old racing oddity and history to some. The reality is that the Tote has been a key player in the enduring success of UK horse racing. The Tote was originally conceived and designed to revitalise UK horse racing after it fell out of favour in the early part of the 20th century. Enacted by parliament under the Racehorse Betting Act as enacted in 1953 the Racehorse betting control board came to be the lever of government action.

The Racehorse Betting Act was created by parliament to deal with several issues around betting. Primarily it was concerned with curbing rampant illegal gambling, and the crime and poverty unregulated gambling could bring. Increasing taxation through betting revenue was also an important factor for an impoverished post-war government. Winston Churchill (Yes, that Winston), an avid racing fan oversaw putting put racing back on track, no pun intended. Today it is still going strong. That said, nothing stays the same and even the Tote has gone through business and technology changes.

Where does the Tote name come from?

The British love a good acronym and it is no different in the world of UK horse racing. The “Horserace Totalisator Board” was the official name of the Tote when it was reconstituted in the 1972 Betting Levy Act. The catchy name just stuck and even though it is no longer government-owned, the name persevered across several sales in the last few years:

The Totalisator Board shall have power—

(a)to carry on pool betting business in any form—

(i)on any horse race;

(ii)on any other event approved by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this paragraph;

The Tote isn’t your average bet

The Tote is not your classic wagering scenario. It functions as a large-scale sweepstake pool. Bets (money) placed with the Tote go into what’s known as the “group pool” for the race. Out of this pool come the winnings to those who backed the winner(s). It’s similar to the office sweepstake at world cup time. The more bets placed the bigger the pool, and therefore the payout continues to grow. This is in contrast to a normal bet where the bet is placed at a specific set of odds and the payout is based on the bookmakers’ odds.

Due to its historical background, the Tote continued through the years and as part of the act of parliament gave a significant amount of the profits to fund grassroots horse racing and other charitable endeavours attached to UK horse racing.

Placing a bet with the Tote

As with most things managed by the British government, the Tote started to flounder and stagnate as new technology came to symbolise UK betting. The internet with its ease of use and capability to place near-instant bets and instant gratification saw the Tote become less and less relevant. Being generous, the government of the day realised the Tote may do better with Betting professionals who could leverage and update the platform to make it a force to be reckoned with.

Tote pool betting example

The new Tote racing

The Tote continued in its unique ways until the early 2010s. Eventually, the Labour government of the day sold off the Tote for a handsome profit to BetFred. BetFred continued the Tote as was (including the portion of the profits to charity). For reasons we can only really speculate on (other than large amounts of profit to be made from the sale), BetFred then sold the Tote to a business venture known as “UK Tote group” for £265 million.

The Tote has however retained its name and its charitable giving. UK Tote group did put significant money into revitalising the OTB side of the Tote and extending its reach. It has also embarked on renovating the on-track and digital estate to bring it up to the status it deserves.

To compete with traditional bookmakers online the Tote now has a first-class online gambling presence with Internet and phone-based apps. At the same time, the traditional Tote pool is being widened to include “World Pools” that are open to the global betting public. As a reminder, the bigger the pool, the bigger the potential for a larger win.

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