This story demonstrates two things: 1, New Labour’s slavish devotion to privatisation and antipathy to public ownership; 2, the erosion of sovereignty represented by the supremacy of EU law, something which is accepted without question. (It’s also a story of interest to my blogging comrade, the journalist Neil Clark, a supporter of public ownership and a fan of horse-racing.)
The state-owned bookmaker, the Tote, is to be sold on the open market, the government has said.
It turned down a bid from a racing consortium because the offer was lower than the £400m price tag.
The sale could not go ahead under EU rules, because the bid was below its independently assessed value.
Betting firm Coral has told the BBC it would be interested in bidding, but the Racehorse Owners Association says the Tote must stay within racing.
The minister for sport, Gerry Sutcliffe, said the government had declined the racing consortium’s offer with “great regret”.
The Racehorse Owners Association, who were part of the association bidding to buy the Tote, expressed concern it may now be sold to a commercial bookmaking company.
“The announcement… should mark the time when everyone in racing backs a campaign to keep the Tote within racing,”
“It is not acceptable to have a bookmaker owning the Tote, especially with a seven-year exclusive pool-betting licence,” president Paul Dixon said.
Bingo and betting firm Gala Coral said it was the government’s decision to open up the sale and confirmed it would be interested in bidding.
“The opportunity to buy the Tote would be welcomed,” Coral spokesman Simon Clare told the BBC.
When the Tote is successfully sold off, half the proceeds of the sale will go to the racing industry.
The sale of the Tote is part of the government’s plan to end its direct involvement in the administration and financing of racing.
The government made a commitment to sell it in its 2001 election manifesto.
“The Government promised in 2001 that the proceeds of the Tote would go to racing,” shadow culture secretary Jeremy Hunt said
“After seven years, they are now effectively back to square one.”
The Tote, or Horserace Totalisator Board, was founded by Winston Churchill in 1928. It was intended as a safe haven for punters, controlled by the state, and beyond the reach of illegal bookmakers.
It employs more than 4,000 staff and has a major presence on all of Britain’s racecourses.
HOW THE TOTE WORKS
* The winner is paid according to the size of the stake in the pool
* The Tote subtracts expenses and tax then pays the remainder equally among winning tickets
* The greater the number of winning tickets, the lower the payout to each winner
* Last-minute backing of a particular horse can dramatically change payouts
* The pot increases with the volume of bets, so if nobody wins, the jackpot rolls over
* There are no limits on prizes