Tote's pool betting monopoly on its last legs

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The Independent Online

The Tote is expecting to be told this week that its cherished monopoly on pool betting on British horseracing will end in seven years.

The Office of Fair Trading, which has been looking into the Tote's monopoly over pool betting, said last year it was "predisposed to the view" that competition would be enhanced by removing the exclusive licence, permitting the supply of pool betting services on British horseracing by rivals.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is expected to announce a seven-year limit to the licence this week, after which time there will be a free market. The decision, which comes as the Tote announces a two-fifths jump in pre-tax profits, is likely to trigger its privatisation, via its transfer to a not-for-profit trust.

The Tote's chairman Peter Jones said the limited extension of its monopoly would inevitably be a compromise. "The licence is indefinite at the moment. We're hopeful there will be a reasonable length to enable us to have a smooth transition. What we were promised originally by the Home Office was 15 years and what the OFT suggested was nil."

The Tote was expected today to announce that pre-tax profits rose 39 per cent to £9.2m in the 25 weeks to 17 September, with Sales up 53 per cent to £693m. The business benefited from the introduction of controversial fixed-odds betting terminals in its shops, which produced turnover of £190m in the period.

It has about 650 of the machines across its 450 shops and has plans to introduce another 350 terminals.

The sale of the Tote to a racing trust is expected to be included in the Queen's Speech. Mr Jones said he thought it was "highly likely but, by no means, absolutely certain" that the Tote privatisation would go ahead, valuing the operation at about £150m.

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