Buyer given more time as Tote sale hits another hurdle

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The Government has been forced to extend a deadline in the sale of the Tote, prompting fears that its plans have been knocked off course.

Labour made a manifesto pledge to offload the state-owned bookmaker and has long been committed to selling it to the racing industry.

After several false starts - including an initial plan to sell the Tote for below market value, which met with the disapproval of the European Commission - a consortium of racing bodies had been given until Thursday to put in an offer.

But the Government has had to extend the deadline because the consortium has been unable to put an offer together that will satisfy the asking price, believed to be £400m.

The consortium was rocked earlier this summer when racecourse owner Northern Racing pulled out. The remaining members are understood to include Arena Leisure, which owns several racecourses; the Racecourse Holdings Trust, part of the Jockey Club; and the Racehorse Owners Association.

But the consortium is also thought to be baulking at the price tag. "It will meet with the Tote's management, evaluate the information it is given and then it may or may not make an offer that the Government will be happy with," said one source close to the process. "But the price is high."

Should the two sides fail to reach a deal - a result some in the industry believe is becoming more likely - the Government will be forced to abandon its plans to offload the Tote to the industry and sell it on the open market. A number of parties are likely to be interested, including bookmaker Coral and various private equity houses.

A government spokesman confirmed talks with the consortium were continuing, but declined to comment further.