Named after the totalisator, 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 put in place to counter the illegal betting activities that were taking place at the time, giving people the chance to wager on races safely with a reputable company run by the government. The Tote’s first appearance at a racecourse came a year later in 1929, when the company integrated betting stalls at meetings at both Carlisle and Newmarket.
The next 40+ years saw the Tote become one of the leading lights of the UK betting industry. As the company continued to grow it was decided that they needed to expand into the world of high street bookmaking. Companies such as William hill were already major players on the high street and the Tote wanted a piece of the action.
In 1973 the company were permitted to then handle bets on all sports across the UK, and it was this that led to them becoming the powerhouse bookmaker that they are today. It was in the same year that the Tote opened their first high street store and the tote bookmaker was formed.
In 1986 the Tote was one of the first companies to broadcast live TV into their betting shops; the future was here.
1992 saw the launch of Tote Direct, which allowed them to channel bets placed in other bookies into their betting pools. This was a joint venture with Corals and is the reason why the company is now 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 jump in the Tote’s takings when they managed to cut a deal with the 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. The Scoop6 is responsible for the first horse race betting millionaire.
Whilst the government had always been at the root of the company, plans to privatise the Tote first came into existence in 1989. These plans were extremely unpopular within the racing community, so much so that the plans were scrapped.
Then in 2008, after years of negotiations between governments and publicly run sporting sectors, it was agreed that the Tote would be sold on the open market. This wasn’t going to be a situation where any old company could come and snap up the business though; the government took an 18 strong shortlist of interested applicants and reduced it down to 5, and then just 2. The last two contenders were Betfred and Sports Investment Partners, and in July 2011 after much negotiation, the Betfred bid of £265 million was accepted, making them the proud owners of that British Horse Racing institution, the Tote.