UK "Tote" may be up for sale by Government

This week's announcement that the UK goverment is to sell state assets creats a ripple of interest

The UK media has characterised as "selling off the family silver" the British government's announcement that it is to sell state assets to help balance the books.

Among those assets is the Tote, a gambling company that has been on and off the market in recent years, with sellers and potential purchasers unable to close the gap sufficiently for a deal.

The global financial crisis, and the government's need to raise funds, may have made such an agreement more likely.

The Guardian newspaper reports that both Ladbrokes and Paddy Power expressed interest in acquiring the Tote following confirmation that the state-owned business, which runs betting shops and on-course pool betting, will be sold.

During a debate in the House of Commons Monday, Liam Byrne, the chief secretary to the Treasury, confirmed that the Tote will be sold "when and where market conditions are right". No detailed schedule for the sale was laid out.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrats' shadow chancellor, who initiated the debate, said that the process had had "more false starts than any horse race".

A Ladbrokes spokesman made the self-evident comment that his company might be interested, but that it would depend on the structure of the deal. Paddy Power's spokesman said that the company was "open-minded about anything that will help us grow as a company".

The Tote contributed GBP 10.4 million to racing last year, down from GBP 11.9 million the previous year, and is a significant source of funding for the sport, The Guardian notes.

"Racing is important for the Tote, and the Tote is important to racing, and we are committed to working with them to maximise the return to racing," Nic Coward, the chief executive of the British Horseracing Authority, said of the proposed sale.

"The minister made a statement a while ago [that plans for an imminent sale of the Tote had been shelved] that was designed to give the Tote's leadership time to build the business.

"If the Government is now looking to do something different, we look forward to receiving the details and working with them."

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