The Tote has been an integral part of not only horse racing, but British betting history since its introduction back in 1928. Famously set up by Winston Churchill, the Tote was in place to counter the illegal betting movements that were happening at the time in horse races across the UK and a result gave people the chance to wager on races with a reputable company run by the government. The Tote’s first appearance at a racecourse came a year later in 1929 where the company first integrated betting stalls at meeting at both Carlisle and Newmarket.
The next 40+ years saw the Tote become one of the leading lights in the UK betting industry. As the company continued to grow – and continued to be government run – it was decided in 1972 that they needed to expand into the world of high street bookmaking. Companies such as William hill were already a major player on the high street and the Tote wanted a piece of this action.
In 1973 the company were permitted to then handle bets on all sports across the UK and it was this factor that lead to them being the powerhouse bookmaker that they are today. It was the same year that the Tote made their first high street store and the tote bookmaker was formed.
In 1986 the Tote was to become one of the first companies to broadcast live TV into their betting shops. This then coincided with the Tote allowing their betting shops to stay open into the evenings to cover even more sports in 1993.
1992 saw the Tote Direct launch which allowed the company to channel bets placed in other bookmakers into their betting pools. This was a joint venture with Corals Bookmaker and was the foundation for the company now being available in over 7,000 high street bookmakers across the UK and masses of online betting sites around the world.
1999 saw probably the biggest influx into the Tote’s betting takings when they managed to cut a deal with Channel 4 racing team allowing them to publicly advertise the Tote’s many betting formats from live race meets. The most popular came in the form the Scoop6 where punters are encouraged to pick the 6 winners of the first 6 races of any televised meet often resulting in 6 or even 7 figure paydays. It was as a result of the Scoop6 that the first horse race betting millionaire came about.
Whilst the government’s influences have always been in the roots of the company, plans set afoot to privatise the Tote first came to head in 1989 in a possible sale. These plans were highly unpopular to the racing public and plans were initially scrapped.
It wasn’t then until 2008 – with years of negotiations between governments and publicly run sporting sectors – that it was agreed for the Tote to be sold on the open market. But this wasn’t going to be a situation where any old company could come snap up the Tote. The government took an 18 strong shortlist of applicants and dwindled them down to 5 and then just 2. The last two were Betfred and Sports investment partners and, in July 2011, the Betfred bid of £265 million was accepted. Today, Betfred are still the current owners of the Tote.