Consortium jumps the final hurdle with £400m Tote bid

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The Independent Online

The racing industry could take control of the Tote as early as March after a £400m bid was submitted to Government.

An alliance of racecourse operators, racehorse owners and Tote management, with debt financing from Lloyds TSB, made the bid for the state-owned bookmaker on Friday. Insiders are now confident the deal will get the green light from Government "within days rather than weeks", and that the sale could be completed as early as March.

Should the deal go through, it will mark the end of long struggle by the Government to privatise the Tote and honour its manifesto pledge to sell it to the racing industry, rather than on the open market.

The Government originally tried to sell the bookmaker at below market value, but that was vetoed by the European Commission for breaking state aid rules.

It then had to extend the deadline for a new bid to be made after the consortium, which includes the Racehorse Association and Jockey Club Racecourses, the owner of 13 tracks, was initially unable to put together a bid that would meet the £400m asking price.

But it is understood that the consortium has now met the asking price with around £350m in debt financing from Lloyds TSB. Insiders also say the Government has continued to talk to EU officials about the latest offer and are confident that it will win European approval.

The Tote, which is led by chief executive Trevor Beaumont, owns 540 betting shops. Turnover in the last financial year was £2.2bn while operating profits came in at £23.4m.

But while the sale will be a victory for the Government and the racing industry, others will be aggrieved that they were not allowed an opportunity to bid.

Rival bookmakers and private equity firms are known to have been interested in acquiring the Tote - which was founded in 1928 to provide pool betting - over the years.

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