Tote Attracts Fourth Suitor
By James Mc
A fourth contender has emerged in the race for state-owned bookmaker the Tote, as a racing industry consortium considers raising its bid, according to sources close to the group.

Former Tote Chief Executive John Heaton told the Reuters news agency earlier this week that his new company, Interactive Gaming Holdings (IGH) are interested in bidding for the Tote's 540 betting shops should they come on the market.

'I would look at it for IGH if it came on the market,' said Heaton on Monday. 'We'd need some partners to do that,' he added.

This follows a similar statement earlier this month when Heaton declared that IGH could be tempted by a move for the Tote following Gala Coralís announcement that it was prepared pay £405 million for the company including its online enterprise, or £325 million for its betting shops alone.

The government is considering its options after rejecting an offer of around £320 million for the Tote in September from a consortium of horse racing industry players, an offer which a source close to the consortium said it was in a position to increase.

The Labour government has pledged to sell the Tote to the racing industry, but an attempt last year was blocked by the European Commission, which said the price was so low it constituted state aid.

PricewaterhouseCoopers have since valued the company at a reported price of about 400 million pounds and invited the industry to bid, with the Tote's current management having also been reported in the media as possible bidders.

Other companies that have previously been involved in potential bids include Northern Racing, which pulled out in August, and Arena Leisure which has now changed its focus towards racecourse management.

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