Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Last Tote House

We have, in our computing history displays, some examples of the pre-computer machinery used in totalisator machines that were used at racecourses to keep track of the amount bet on each horse. Totalisators were a very interesting development, started in France in the 1860s – you can read about their history hereIn New Zealand, at every serious race-course (and there were about 60 of them) there was built a “totalisator house” in which to operate the totalisator. In a sense, these “tote houses” were special-purpose self-contained over-sized computers. They would take bets and issue tickets through windows and show the number of bets on each horse on a large display that could be read from a long distance. The operating totalisator was always referred to as the “totalisator machine” despite the fact that all of the work of operating the tote (including the arithmetic) was done by humans, by hand.
The Amberley Tote House - Google Earth
    All of the totalisators were eventually replaced by computer systems and the tote-houses became obsolete. At some courses the tote houses continued to be used for selling tickets and at others they were closed down and left to age gracefully, usually unmaintained. 
    Over the years I have been visiting race courses to see what now remains of the tote houses. I have finally visited the last course on my list at Amberley, north of Christchurch and can now report that 27 of them are still with us, in various states of repair. This one has long been intriguing because, from Google Earth, it looks like a flying saucer. This it what it looks like close up.
The other remaining NZ tote houses can be seen at: http://goo.gl/MCHhT
[posted by Bob Doran]