Totes future hangs in balance amid squabbles

15 Jul 99
The future of the Tote, the state-owned pool betting monopoly, could take more than two years to sort out as horse racing's ruling bodies squabble over its destiny.

16 July 1999

Peter Savill, chair of the British Horseracing Board (BHB), racing's ruling body, has lobbied heavily for the Tote to be handed over to the board lock, stock and barrel. But Peter Jones, the Tote's chair, favours the creation of a trust that would effectively buy the Tote from the government.

The government wants to sell the Tote, formally known as the Horserace Totalisator Board, which could be worth up to £100m on the open market.

The Tote runs 275 betting shops in competition with bookmakers, and also has a monopoly of pool betting on and off the racecourse, a method of betting where punters are paid out a proportion of the amount staked, with the profits going back into racing.

In an inconclusive intervention, Home Secretary Jack Straw this week told the Tote annual general meeting that the government had no preferred option for the sale.

'Nothing has been ruled out, and nothing ruled in,' he said. 'No reliable views could possibly be reached before each and every alternative has been thoroughly examined.'

Jones, however, came out strongly against handing the Tote over to the BHB as he announced record profits of £23.9m for 1998/99. Of that, a best-ever £12.3m went back into racing via the betting levy, sponsorship, and payments to racecourses.

Jones said: 'A trust should be set up to safeguard the Tote for racing. It is entirely proper that the BHB should have significant representation on this trust, but the trust should also reflect other interests from within the sport.'

He added that the BHB had no experience of running commercial enterprises and could find itself with a conflict of interest.

The mechanics of the sale will be complex. The government does not actually own the Tote, which was set up as a 'body corporate with perpetual succession', so legislation would be needed to privatise it before it could be sold.


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