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Sale of Tote progressing

The seemingly pedestrian progress on the sale of the UK government's Tote may be about to accelerate, according to reports in the English media over the weekend, with acceptable bidders now down to just four. The Express reported that likely bidders now consist of the Betfred bookie company owned by Fred Dones, Northern Racing's Reuben brothers and an as yet unnamed horse racing foundation formed to execute a management buy-out of the Tote.

The newspaper quotes 'senior sources' as confirming the short list, reportedly drawn up by Lazard, the investment bank running the sale. It claims that Gala Coral did not submit a final bid by the final deadline of March 25.

The government has promised to give half the sale proceeds to racing.

The online betting group Betfair is said to be interested in buying the non-shop side of the business from whoever buys the Tote, which has once again been put up for sale to help plug the UK's budget deficit.

The horse racing foundation on the short list, in effect a management buyout, is the idea of the Tote board of directors, and has the popular support of all the main industry bodies, anxious to retain the organisation's annual profits for racing.

The Independent reported that the fourth contender, a private equity consortium led by Sir Martin Broughton, the British Airways chairman and former chairman of regulator the British Horseracing Authority, has received the support of prominent London stock broker Andy Stewart.

Stewart's own bid for the Tote failed to make the short list, and he has now allied himself with Broughton, reportedly plugging a financing gap left by the withdrawal from the Broughton initiative of Penta Capital recently. That loss came at a critical time for the bidder, with the short list for the anticipated 200 million pounds deal looming.

The newspaper claims that Stewart's brainchild Cenkos Securities will back Broughton's Sports Investment Partners, and Stewart appeared to confirm this, telling reporters: "Yes, Sir Martin and I have joined forces to take the Tote out of the government's hands. Chris Bell (former Ladbrokes chief and another unsuccessful bidder) and I are working under his chairmanship."

The sale of the Tote is beset by opposition from prominent industry companies. Simon Bazelgette, the chief executive of The Jockey Club, has gone so far as to warn that the Tote could be barred from its racetracks, including Cheltenham and Aintree, if a private bidder wins the auction.

On the sales block is a well established organisation comprising 500 shops and an on-track betting service. However, it is widely held that a more efficient business management hand is needed on the tiller - despite an annual turnover approaching 3 billion pounds, the Tote made only 22.3 million pounds operating profit in 2009.

Source: InfoPowa News

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