Racing: Terminals promise to arrest a Tote decline

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The Independent Online
FOR MORE than 30 years, the competition between the bookmakers and the Tote in the off-course betting market has resembled a scuffle between Mike Tyson and Willie Carson. While the big bookies have moved into prime trading sites and filled their shops with customers, the Tote has suffered quietly in the side- streets, unnoticed and unloved, writes Greg Wood.

Affection will take time, but from now on the Tote will be harder to ignore. Over the next six weeks, terminals will be installed throughout the Coral chain of betting shops which will allow punters to bet swiftly and directly into most of the Tote's pools, and could help the state-run organisation to break the vicious circle of small pools and low interest. Almost overnight, the number of outlets offering pool betting will rise from about 160 to almost 800.

The grey, typewriter-sized terminals seem unlikely agents of betting innovation, but the technology they contain is remarkably powerful. Bets, filled in on the computer cards familiar to racegoers, are transmitted to the Tote's head office in Wigan, and a receipt printed, in about three seconds.

The effect on Tote turnover could be dramatic, but this higher profile is not cheap. Coral will receive a 20 per cent commission on all bets, which will be paid for by increased deductions from the pools; that is, lower dividends.

This fact has led some to cast the Tote in the role of Dr Faust, but it has clearly decided that if punters will not come to them, the Tote must go to the punters, and 20p in the pound is a price worth paying.

The unequal fight continues, but now Willie may have a horseshoe in his glove.