The Tote, a name familiar to generations of racegoers over the past 90 years, will be replaced by Britbet from mid-July on the vast majority of British tracks when a group of racecourses including Cheltenham, Aintree, York and Goodwood takes control of on-course pool betting.
Sir Winston Churchill, a keen owner and racegoer, was instrumental in setting up the Tote in 1928 and it was government-owned before its sale to the Betfred bookmaking chain in July 2011. The deal with Betfred included a seven-year monopoly on British pool betting that expires on 12 July and 54 of Britain’s racecourses will launch their own pools under the Britbet brand the following day.
The decision by the tracks to set up a rival operation to the Tote will change the landscape on all but a handful of courses. In addition to the rebranding of pool betting, at least 49 of Betfred’s 51 on-course betting shops are scheduled to close, while the firm has also announced an end to major race sponsorships inherited from the Tote, including the Ebor Handicap at York and the “Autumn Double” of the Cambridgeshire and Cesarewitch at Newmarket.
Ascot and Chester are the only significant absentees from the project and the tracks involved hope their in-house betting project will allow them to take control of a valuable revenue stream.
“Our aim is to make Britbet synonymous with British racing and our racecourse partners while delivering a first-class experience for customers on and off the racecourses,” David Williams, Britbet’s director of communications, said. “It will be a genuine ‘by racing, for racing’ operation, which is something we believe customers will embrace.”
Pool betting has always struggled to gain a foothold in Britain’s competitive gambling market, as many punters prefer to bet at a fixed price with a bookmaker. The emergence of betting exchanges 15 years ago has further reduced the appeal of pool betting, where a slice is taken off the total amount bet on an event and a dividend is then declared to a £1 unit, dividing what remains between all winning tickets.
Britbet customers will be able to bet into pools both at racecourses and online but other key details of its offering – such as the introduction of a “small stake, big win” bet to rival the Tote’s Scoop6 – remain hazy at present.
The all-important level of deductions from pools has also yet to be decided, though punters will hope for a cut from the current rake-off from win pools, which was raised from 16.5% to 19.25% last year.