The notification by the British government last week that it is again about to offer the Tote state betting organisation up for auction has triggered a slew of speculative media reports over the weekend.
Most reports cite Paddy Power, Betfred, Gala Coral, Sportech and Ladbrokes as contenders in any contest to acquire the organisation, which was set up by the Churchill government in 1928 to protect British gamblers. There is also speculation that private equity firms and horseracing industry associations may also be putting bids together.
However, William Hill has emerged as a major interested party provided what it decribes as ‘archaic’ laws against industry domination can be changed.
“We don’t think that we should be ruled out of the competition,” Andrew Lyman, a William Hill executive, told The Daily Mail. “We are looking to seek a change in the definition of what is termed as competition in this market.”
Another company source told the newspaper: “We are absolutely going to challenge what is currently allowed. “There is a lot of potential in that business and we have the scale to benefit from synergies between the two companies. We could go for it and then if challenged, we would provoke a review of the regulations.”
William Hill confirmed its intentions on Sunday, saying in a statement carried by Reuters: “We would be very interested in looking at any opportunity to expand our UK retail footprint through acquisition, including the sale of the Tote.”
The statement added that current competition rules governing bookmakers in Britain did not take account of the global nature of the betting market, and called on the UK’s regulator to rethink its approach.
“We believe that the Office of Fair Trading needs to revisit the archaic competition tests which have looked at the market in terms of betting shops – the true market is a global one that includes online and betting exchanges,” the statement concluded.
In announcing the intention to sell, the government said last week the likely date for an auction would be late autumn as part of a wider sale of government assets. The sale would be “an open market process” inviting proposals from “all interested parties”, the notification advised.
Valuations for the state-owned Tote have fallen from about GBP400 million three years ago to as little as GBP200 million currently. The organisation has been put on the block previously, but withdrawn when the state was unable to achieve the value it sought from a sale.
The Tote has a personnel head count of 540 and last year reported a profit of GBP6.1 million on turnover of GBP2.3 billion. That profit was calculated after the company had paid almost GBP20 million to horseracing, including GBP4.5 million in sponsorship and donations. The company has an online division based in Alderney.