When Betfred bought the Tote operation last year, it wasn’t simply a matter of a transfer of ownership and delivery of Tote pool betting operations. Along with that, Betfred acquired 517 Tote betting shops, considerably more than I had thought there were.
Given that there were so many Tote outlets, it’s perhaps surprising that only 25 of them were sufficiently close to one of Betfred’s own 840 shops as to create what the Office of Fair Trading called a “significant reduction of choice in betting shops for consumers.” The OFT’s decision isn’t just designed to look after you and me alone, it also recognises that two outlets of the same firm within spitting distance of each other isn’t fair competition for other bookies.
As a result, Betfred has had to sell on those 25 shops, half of which are in the Greater Manchester area, with others in Blackpool, Liverpool, Lincoln, and Hull. Betfred said at the outset that they would prefer to sell them as a job lot, and that’s what has happened. They have agreed a deal with Stan James, which will see them recoup £5m of the £265m they spent on the purchase of the Tote. The deal means Stan James will increase its number of outlets from 65 to 90. Again, I’m surprised at that number, as I had thought they had already considerably more than 65 shops.
There could be a fly in the ointment that stops the deal going through. It is subject to a public consultation. Although the OFT itself is “minded to accept the proposal put forward by Betfred” there remains the possibility of a blockage following the Portas review last year. That said there were too many betting shops on our high streets, a view the Government has accepted. It’s just possible then, that this consultation may force a different approach if the local authorities affected play the Portas card.