Control Data Australia Memories compiled by Brian Membrey


1865 -  Joseph Oller and the World’s First Tote

The Totalizator (or 'pari-mutuel', literally ‘betting amongst ourselves' in North America), is a sweepstake method of betting where the investor places a wager and is issued with a ticket, the total of all bets calculated, a percentage of the total withdrawn by the operator to cover expenses and a profit margin, and the remaining pool distributed as dividends to holders of winning tickets in ratio to the amount of money invested on the winning selection.

The system is credited to the French entrepreneur Joseph Oller (1839–1922), a Catalan born immigrant from near Barcelona who in the mid 1860s had the idea of selling tickets on a horse race and keeping all the proceeds in a common prize pool to be split amongst the winners.   After the race was over, Oller would take a 5% handling charge and then distribute the rest to bettors based on the odds established by the bets made on each horse.

Oller's system was simplicity itself.

It consisted of blocks of consecutively number tickets. Each block corresponding to the race card number of each starter in the races.  The number of bets recorded against each horse was instantly identifiable and it was a straightforward exercise to compute the total pool and make the necessary percentage deduction before dividends were calculated.

The system operated through basic wooden sheds with an open front from which the sellers and payout clerks operated.  

The amount invested on each horse and the total pool was displayed, the punter requiring some mental arithmetic skills to work out approximate dividends

Oller  did well from his time with the pari-mutuel that when it was banned for a time, he converted his betting outlet into a theatre and restaurant. He later became a entertainment entrepreneur, opening bathing-houses, amusement parks, music halls and theatres, including perhaps the famous of all, the Moulin Rouge.

Oller became involved in the operation of on-course totalisators, inventing and patenting machines for issuing tickets that counted the number issued - "les billets compteurs" (the ticket meters).

The totalizator and bookmakers continued to operate side-by-side until 1890 when bookmakers were finally banned. Reports around this time suggest that the tote was turning over the equivalent of £1 million per month, an estimated two-thirds of which was in Paris.

The legal status of the pari-mutuel was firmly established in law in June, 1891 and the racing clubs of Paris assigned to Joseph Oller the organization of the pari-mutuel in the capital.

The percentages taken from the pool would have horrified Australian punters - in 1908, it was 15 per cent (compared with a maximum of 13.5 per cent in Australia), overheads of 8 per cent, 2 per cent tax, 1 per cent for the thoroughbred industry and 4 per cent for the racing clubs – later the overhead was as high as 22 per cent.

Oller Tote Wagon (from Pascal Caron, "Carphaz")               Artist's impression of totalizator buildings, Paris, 1875                         Joseph Oller (from Pascal