The Tote is shaping up as another good news story for our industry. This is the message coming from the seven-year deal recently put together by Alizeti and Britbet, the two companies that now provide a Tote betting service for British racing following the expiry of Betfred’s exclusive pool betting licence in July.
Britbet is owned by 55 British racecourses, while Alizeti is a consortium backed by a group of investors made up of racehorse owners and breeders. Alizeti currently has a 25% share of the Betfred Tote business and plans to acquire the other 75% next year.
With the deal containing complexities of Brexit proportions – exacerbated by the significance of Betfred – it is a huge credit to all sides that they eventually came to an agreement that would build on, rather than split, the all-important liquidity of the pool betting market. Crucially, it means that all bets made through both operators are now being put into the same pool.
Britbet will continue to look after the racecourse business, while Alizeti goes after the potentially rich pickings of the off-course market.
However, both will operate under the same banner and, so far as the general public is concerned, it will simply be betting on the Tote.
The development of a new app, from which it will be possible for off-course punters to have easy online access to popular bets such as the Placepot, is high on the agenda.
So too is the expansion of business through Tote Direct, the service that markets pool betting through high street bookmakers.
The position of Ascot racecourse in all this is highly significant. Although so-called Ascotbet is neither part of Alizeti nor Britbet, its pool bets will, for most meetings, continue to go into the single UK pool.
However, the most exciting development yet to emerge under the new Tote structure will see all bets placed at Royal Ascot next year going into what is being described as a ‘world pool’.
This will be hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club and is expected to provide pools of eye-watering amounts.
Live pictures of Royal Ascot races will be streamed into Hong Kong, stimulating what will be a massive local betting audience, while Ascot will encourage Hong Kong horse and jockey participation at the royal meeting as a means of further invigorating the local betting audience.
Another dimension to this fantastic plan is to draw in an American audience by showing a number of the races live on NBC and giving that audience the ability to bet on the events, subject to domestic legislation.
The beauty of creating very large pools is that they offer the prospect of big wins for relatively small stakes for the modest punter, while they remove the maximum stake barrier, for which bookmakers are so often criticised, for those who bet in much larger stakes.
As pool bets build they assume a natural momentum of their own, the like of which we have rarely seen in this country.
There is also bound to be increasing interest in reducing the take-out of pools, thereby making betting with the Tote more competitive and stimulating the domestic market. Desirable though this is, it would obviously have to be balanced with other financial considerations.
Of course, we must ask, how will all this benefit owners? Well, all horserace betting, on these shores at least, is subject to levy payments, much of which go into prize-money. But more than that is the fact that the restructured Tote, now arriving at a time when digital technology knows no bounds, could provide significantly more money for race sponsorship and another source of meaningful income for some, if not all, racecourses.
It is therefore up to the Horsemen to ensure that prize-money agreements reflect any new money that we all hope will be delivered by the Tote.