The long-awaited sale of the Tote has moved closer to the finishing line as the Government announced the next stage of its £200m auction.
John Penrose, Minister for Tourism and Heritage, said a short-list of bidders had been drawn up after receiving 18 takeover proposals for the State-owned betting group. The statement from the Department for Culture Media and Sport did not reveal the suitors, but added that another update is due in the spring.
Favourites are said to include bookmakers Gala Coral and Betfred, as well as a consortium led by former Ladbrokes chief executive Chris Bell and another bidding team headed by British Airways chairman Sir Martin Broughton.
The Government fired the starting gun on the sale during June’s Budget in the latest attempt to offload the Tote into private hands. The Tote, which was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1928, has now been lined up for sale for 10 years.
Ministers aim to resolve the future of the Tote by the end of June and have pledged to share 50% of the net cash proceeds from a sale with the racing industry. But the Government said the proceeds will be spread out over the period of its spending review as it seeks to slash Britain’s national debt.
Investment bank Lazard is handling the auction and it is understood that short-listed bidders will now receive a financial report being compiled by accountant Ernst Young. They are likely to include the Tote’s own board on behalf of the racing industry, which wants to return the business to its former charitable status and create the Tote Foundation.
Commenting on the statement, Paul Roy, chairman of the British Horseracing Authority, said: “Racing welcomes the Government’s latest steps in resolving the future of the Tote, and particularly that Racing interests are central to a successful outcome.
“We look forward to continuing to work closely with Government to get the best outcome for the sport. Racing is clear what is right for the sport from any change in the Tote’s status. MPs put it best earlier this month; the Tote was set up for Racing, and that must continue but in a way that fits the modern market after the Tote is removed from the public sector.
“That means recognition of the strong relationship between the Tote and the sport, which is such an important part of the business, and recognition of the contribution the sport racing has given to the Tote over many decades.
“Following today’s announcement, other parties may want to talk to Racing about plans for the Tote. This is only natural given that the future success of the Tote depends on the co-operation of racing and the fact that racing’s interests are front and centre. They will know what they must do.”
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