Tote privatisation postponed

Good news:

Government postpones sale of Tote

A Tote betting slip

The credit crunch has hit the sale of the Tote

Plans by the government to sell off state-owned bookmaker the Tote have been shelved as market condition are currently “not appropriate”.

Sports Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said the Tote would be retained in public ownership until conditions improved.

In July, the government had said it was preparing an auction for the Tote.

The latest setback comes after previous attempts to sell the business to the racing industry and a consortium backed by private equity fell through.

Waiting game

In a Commons written statement, Mr Sutcliffe said: “After further work over the summer, I have now concluded that it is not appropriate to pursue a sale in these market conditions.

“I have therefore decided that the Tote should be retained in public ownership for the medium-term and brought to the market when conditions are likely to deliver value for the taxpayer and racing.

“Finally, the government would like to place on record again its warm appreciation of the loyalty and dedication of the Tote’s staff whilst its future has been under consideration.”

The Tote was established in 1928. It now employs 4,000 people and is the fourth-largest bookmaker in the UK.

Falling value?

The government made a commitment to sell the Tote in its 2001 election manifesto.

In 2007, an alliance of racecourse operators, racehorse owners and Tote management, with debt financing from Lloyds TSB, made a bid for the state-owned bookmaker, but that later fell through.

In April this year, the government appointed investment bank Goldman Sachs to examine options for the business.

Previous bids for the Tote had valued the business at about £400m. But recent reports suggested Goldman Sachs had valued the 529 betting shops and pools business at between £260m and £290m.

The Tote, or Horserace Totalisator Board, was founded by Winston Churchill in 1928.

When it started its purpose was to offer on-course pool betting on horseracing instead of starting price betting with bookmakers.

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