Uncertain progress for Tote sale

After months of stalemate, the prolonged sale of the Tote, looks set to go forward soon, as the Government announced today that it would be putting the state-owned bookmaker, including its online gambling wing, Tote Casino, on the open market in the autumn. It looks unlikely to be a smooth transaction from this point on, though, as sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe warned that the government “will need to be satisfied that it is right to proceed with a sale in the light of current market conditions”.

Indeed, rumours suggest that the Tote, which was valued at £400 million last year, is unlikely to fetch more than £280 million given the current economic situation. Sutcliffe remains optimistic, however, describing the company as “a highly attractive asset which would enjoy significant interest if brought to market in an open auction”.

Further complications may also arise, it transpires, as the Racehorse Owners Association is planning to seek judicial review. “We do not wish to throw a spanner in the works by forcing a Judicial Review,” commented Paul Dixon, the association’s chairman, “but we are equally determined to do this if racing looks like being left out in the cold.”

The ROA were members of a consortium, along with the Racecourse Association and Tote bosses, that saw a £400 million bid for Tote rejected due to a perceived over-reliance on private equity. A second offer of £320 million, which relied less on private funding, was subsequently deemed too low, although such an offer would probably be gratefully received in the current climate. Dixon commented: “If they sell for less than we offered, serious questions will be asked. We won’t let the government get away with murder, don’t worry about that.”