British racing is finally entering a new era as the UK Tote Group has completed its takeover of the Tote from Betfred. The destination of the Tote has been a long-running saga since Betfred purchased it in 2011. The horse racing industry was never happy with the sale by the government, believing that Fred Done didn’t care about the sport and just wanted to get hold of the associated high street shops.
Consequently, when Betfred’s exclusive ownership of the Tote ended in 2018 it soon became apparent that racing as a whole would prefer someone else to own it. There were numerous false starts on that front, but the saga appears to be over as the UK Tote Group finalises its acquisition of UK pool betting operations, making it the sole owner of the Tote and able to implement its own strategy.
The Saga Summed Up
There was always an uncomfortable alliance between Betfred and British racing from the moment that the Manchester-formed bookmaker won the auction to take over the pool betting firm in 2011. The desire to privatise it had been a long-held one by successive governments, with the sale eventually taking place after Fred Done’s company paid around £265 million for the operation.
From the moment Done bought it, racing seemed to be plotting to oust him the second that it could be done. The Tote had been a presence on British racecourses since 1928 when Winston Churchill came up with the idea during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The initial plan was for a company called Britbet to rival the pool nature of it when Done’s reign ended, but that never got off the ground.
Even the plan for Britbet was far from being a perfect one, with the company missing out on taking over pool betting at Ascot and Chester racecourses, as well as a number of others. The business is owned by most of the other racecourses, believing that they have the sport’s best interest at heart even if what they have to offer isn’t perfect. They were also scuppered by Alizeti buying a 25% stake of the Tote in May 2018.
Alizeti Capital, a consortium made up of racing industry heavyweights, bought a 25% stake in the Tote from Betfred with the aim of taking over the entire project within five years. That was in 2018, when the Tote was valued at about £130 million. In the months that followed, an uneasy agreement was reached between Alizeti and Britbet to ensure that pool betting on racecourses would work.
The Alizeti Consortium, which was led by Alex Frost, changed its name to The UK Tote Group after completing the deal to buy the remaining 75% of the Tote from Betfred. The company has paid what is being described as being ‘north of £100 million’ for the pool betting company, including payments to the Horserace Betting Levy. The group is made up of more than one hundred and sixty investors.
Plans Will Be Outlined in Coming Weeks
The UK Tote Group, which is based in Wigan, will outline its plans for the future of the British racing institution in the coming weeks. The original Tote was designed to offer punters an alternative to traditional bookmakers, so it is likely that the organisation will attempt to take it back to those roots. It’s also more than likely that it will look to tackle the issue with the Tote’s current market share.
At the time of writing, the Tote accounts for just 4% of the UK betting market, which will need to be improved upon if the purchase of the Tote is going to prove to be a sensible one. It’s likely that a new website alongside new branding will be the first step for the UK Tote Group. On top of that, rumours are abound that the Tote Ten To Follow feature will also be making a return in the future.
The most important thing for The UK Tote Group to do is to reclaim an audience that has lost interest in pool betting steadily over the years. It seems sensible that boosted pool sizes will be one way of doing that, alongside developing opportunities for the service overseas. There is an expectation that shared liquidity in overseas pools will increase in the coming years, as evidenced by the likes of the World Pool.
That was run as a collaboration between the Totepool and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, giving bettors the chance to pay into a global pool that was on offer in ten countries. The bets were mixed into the same pool as those placed with the Bet With Ascot service on the course. Alex Frost made reference to the ‘huge opportunities for growth’ on an international front when the takeover was officially announced.
The Ten To Follow competition used to present winners with life-changing amounts, as experienced by the 2009 winner who took home £450,000. It was discontinued in 2014, but the UK Tote Group now looks set to bring it back as a way of winning over dubious punters. It remains to be seen whether a change of ownership alone will win people round to the world of pool betting, which declined in popularity over the years.