In February, it was announced that the Tote would be replaced by Britbet on most UK racecourses from July 2018. It brings an end to 90 years of history as the Tote was set up in 1928 with Sir Winston Churchill playing a major role in its formation. It remained government-owned until July 2011 when Betfred purchased it on a seven-year deal which ends on 12 July.
From 13 July 2018 onward, 54 UK courses will launch their own pools system using the Britbet brand and all but two of Betfred’s 51 on-course betting shops will close. A decade or so ago, this news may have been greeted with outrage but today, it has been met with casual indifference. The growth of betting exchanges has reduced interest in pool betting since in many cases. For newcomers to horse racing betting, the Tote is something of a mystery which I attempt to unravel in this article.
What is the Tote?
You pick your horses and place your money in what is known as a ‘pool’. If you have a winning ticket, you share the pot with every other winner. Obviously, the fewer people that share your selections, the more money you make.
While on the racecourse, you’ll see Tote screens which display odds for the upcoming race and the prices change until the start. Make your selection, pick a stake, and place your wager by saying the horse’s number. The minimum bet is £2 which makes it appealing for casual punters looking to enjoy a low-cost day at the races. You will receive a Tote betting ticket and if your horse wins, listen for the Tote dividend announcement so you can calculate your winnings. The Tote Dividend is based on £1 so if it is £10 and you bet £8, you receive £80.
A Tote Place bet is a good option if you fancy an outsider to get close but are not sure it will win. Once again, the Tote Place amount is based on £1 and while you win less, your chances of picking up winnings increases. You can also make an-each way bet which costs twice as much as a single bet.
The Tote Placepot is a bit of a punt but can yield a decent win. Choose a horse to finish in a ‘place’ in the first six races of the card and if they all do the business, you will share your winnings with anyone else who achieved the same.
The Tote Jackpot follows the same principle but your six horses must win. It used to be the Holy Grail of horse racing betting but the proliferation of online betting, along with better odds, means the Tote is somewhat outdated.
Is It Even Worth It?
In simple terms, will the Tote even be missed? These days, punters argue that they would be better off with an accumulator than the Tote Jackpot, but is this the case? Take the final pool size at Lingfield Park on 6 April. The final pool size was £28,375.09 but with 3.5 winning units, the Dividend was £8,107.10. If you backed the six horses instead, would you end up with more or less than the Tote Jackpot Dividend?
- Accomplice – 13/2
- Spring Romance – 3/1
- Cayuga – 6/4
- Just That Lord – 3/1
- Poet’s Society – 6/1
- Zamjar – 5/2
A £1 accumulator at SP prices on the above would yield just £7,350 but in this instance, the Tote Jackpot was the better bet. It would have been even better had you been the only winner.
On 2 April, the guaranteed Jackpot was £10,000 and it was won by a single punter. The Scoop 6 guarantees the five-figure pay-out and is often worth your time. On this particular day, backing all six winners in an accumulator would have yielded just £3,359.88 and that included a 16/1 winner.
It is clear that the Tote Jackpot is possibly worth winning on cards where a few short-priced favourites are likely to win but it is a less attractive proposition for race cards with the potential for several longer priced winners. In cases where there are a few red-hot favourites, it’s likely you’ll be sharing the jackpot with an increasing number of people. It is worth pointing out that there is the small matter of a 19.25% rake-off from win pools, an amount increased from last year’s 16.5% figure.
What’s the Problem?
Despite the examples shown above, the Tote Jackpot is often far lower than an accumulator bet. One of the big advantages of the Tote from years gone by was the number of people involved who had little knowledge of betting. Indeed, this is why the Tote was organized like a lottery as you select ‘numbers’ so in theory, and often in practice, a casual bettor would tick six numbers at random as you would with the lotto without regard to form etc.
In the last remaining months of the Tote, avoid the Jackpot bet unless it has carried over a few times. At this stage, you will still be competing against the same people with lesser racing knowledge that caused the pot to grow in the first place. In reality, the Tote Placepot is arguably the best option now.
When it comes to the Placepot, there are few things to note:
- You have to select the winner only in races with four horses or less.
- Two top horses in fields of 5-7.
- Top three in fields of 8+.
- Top four in 16+ runner handicaps.
Betfred only pays out 72% of the Placepot pool. So, if the pool is £100,000 for a card at Lingfield and there are 480 winning tickets, each person receives £150 because Betfred will pay out £72,000/480 = £150 for every £1 placed. If you added £5 to the pool, you would receive £750 for example.
In theory, you can profit because you’re betting against less skilled operators rather than bookies. Unlike an accumulator or Tote Jackpot bet where your bets are torpedoed if the horse doesn’t win, a place keeps you in the game. The 28% cut is a pain but is arguably better value than a bookmaker’s vig in a 6-bet accumulator.
You can choose more than one selection per race but the stakes escalate rapidly. For example, if you pick three horses a race, you increase your chances of landing the placepot but you’re effectively placing 729 selections over the six races which means a £1 stake will cost you £729! It is so high because you’re multiplying the stakes race by race (a ‘permutation bet’); 3 selections a race = 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 = 729.
However, to be frank, there are some derisory pay-outs. At Kempton Park on 9 April for example, the placepot pool was £78,182.61 but with over 1,300 winning tickets, the payment was just £43.50. At Ludlow on the same day, the Placepot was £190.50. There are some incredible wins, however. On 5 April 2018 at Wolverhampton, the Pool was £112,156.34 and with 0.65 winning tickets, the Placepot was a remarkable £81,874.10. Moreover, the rest was carried over to Lingfield the following day where inexplicably, there were 5,677.04 winning tickets!
Final Thoughts on the Tote
As its days appear to be numbered, it is perhaps unfair to kick the Tote while it is down. It used to serve as a useful tool for casual punters and allowed more than a few people to enjoy massive wins. On 8 April, 2011, Steve Whiteley won almost £1.5 million from a £2 stake and there have been multiple five-figure winners over the years. Alas, the Tote will soon be a thing of the past although it remains to be seen what the new incarnation will look like.