New pool-betting project Britbet on hold as talks continue with the Tote
Racecourse pool betting operation Britbet have put their launch next month on hold to continue talks with the Tote over possible collaboration with their rivals but insisted that did not mean the end of the project.
Britbet said the standstill arrangement would provide the opportunity to develop a long-term partnership with the Tote, in which the Alizeti consortium which claims the support of a number of industry heavyweights has taken a stake, "to ensure there is a single pool betting operation for British racing which is in the best interests of the sport".
Doubts have been cast over the viability of pool betting in Britain if liquidity is split between two operations when the Betfred-owned Tote's exclusive pool betting licence in Britain expires.
The standstill arrangement, agreed unanimously at a Britbet board meeting last week, could run until the end of October but if a long-term agreement cannot be reached Britbet would launch as a customer-facing brand.
In the meantime, the Totepool brand will remain on course taking pool bets, while Britbet's new technology will be installed across their 55 racecourses, including screens and equipment for taking bets. Totepool's on-course staff will also transfer across to be managed by Britbet from July 13.
Britbet chairman Neil Goulden said their vision had been to maximise investment for their partner courses and take control of pool betting on course.
He added: "With those principles secured, we are able to explore ways in which we may be able to work with an invigorated Tote to deliver the best product and service for our racecourse partners and ultimately for racegoers.
Betfred founder Fred Done said the news was "a significant step in the right direction" for the Tote.
He added: "I look forward to seeing the continuation of the hard work and achievements Betfred have made in the seven years of our ownership."
Their chief executive Alex Frost thanked the Britbet team for the "positive" way discussions had taken place so far.
He added: "Our team will continue to work with the Britbet team to ensure the best outcome for the sport in the months and years ahead. As Together for the Tote we are committed to securing racing's finances for generations to come through a revitalised Tote."
Britain's two major racecourse groups – the Jockey Club and Arena Racing Company (Arc) – have been at loggerheads over Britbet in a row over media rights which appeared a threat to the nascent operation's future.
However, the two sides presented a united front following Tuesday's announcement.
"These objectives will now be achieved either by Britbet partnering with the Tote – with Britbet providing new technology and customer service and the Tote operating the products and pool – or, if agreement cannot be reached through good faith discussions, then Britbet will launch as a consumer-facing service."
Bazalgette said the standstill was only made possible since Alizeti signed its deal with Betfred last month.
He added: "In my experience our sport is better off when its stakeholders work together towards a shared goal. The Jockey Club always looks to collaborate with others and I am pleased that through this process we have agreed with Martin Cruddace and his team at Arc that we should explore future opportunities to work together, in addition to other racecourses and the sport's participants."
"If Arc and the Jockey Club can establish a symbiotic relationship built on trust, British horseracing can unlock real value in any number of areas. I look forward to working closely with Simon to nourish and protect the value of the sport."
Pool betting latest: your questions answered
What has been announced and what is the background?
The Tote's exclusive licence to run pool betting in Britain expires from July 13, and 55 racecourses have come together to form Britbet as a rival operator. However, Britbet have decided to pause the launch of the operation through a standstill agreement in order to talk to the Tote about working together.
Why is this important?
Liquidity – the amount of money in pools – is all important for tote betting and having two competing operations would weaken that liquidity.
What does the standstill agreement mean?
The customer-facing Britbet brand will not launch on July 13 as planned to allow talks between the racecourses and the Tote to continue. In the meantime the Tote will continue across the majority of tracks – Ascot, Chester and Bangor have their own arrangements – but Britbet will continue bringing in their own technology and will provide the staff.
What will the talks be about?
The Alizeti consortium, which has bought a 25 per cent stake in the Tote with the option to buy the remainder of the business, is the key to the talks. It has made promises about returns to racing from the Tote which the courses will want to make sure can be delivered. They will also want to know it is Alizeti rather than Betfred running the show.
Does this mean the Britbet project is shelved?
Not necessarily. If an agreement cannot be reached between the two sides by the end of October then Britbet will eventually launch as its own brand. If a deal is done then the understanding is that Britbet would continue as a service provider on the 55 tracks even if the Tote's name is above the door.