What is the ‘Tote’?

‘Tote’ is the shortened form of ‘Horserace Totalisator Board’, which was originally founded, as the ‘Racehorse Betting Control Board’, under the auspices of Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, in 1928. The Tote remained a state-owned and controlled bookmaker until July 2011, when it was privatised, with stewardship passing to established bookmaker Beffred, at that stage, and, subsequently, to a consortium of investors known as the UK Tote Group in October.

Unlike other bookmakers, on-course, on the High Street and online, the Tote is a pool betting operation. Rather than bet at guaranteed, fixed odds against a bookmaker, Tote punters effectively bet against, or with, each other. All the money staked on a particular market is added, or ‘pooled’, together, the Tote takes a fixed margin, or commission – which is how it makes its profit – and the winning dividend is calculated by dividing the net prize pool by the number of winning tickets in the pool. Winning dividends are declared to a £1 stake, but, obviously, successful punters are paid out pro-rata.

Of course, Tote betting involves a degree of uncertainty insofar that punters cannot determine, at the time they strike a bet, what their exact return will be. A small number of winning tickets in a pool may lead to a bigger payout than fixed-odds betting, but, by the same token, if the prize pool is small, and the market weak, winning dividends can be skewed by one or two large bets. Thus, on the whole, Tote being tends to be the preserve of small-scale, recreational punters.