Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) is in discussions with a number of third parties over the potential sale of Tote Ireland to private interests, with an extensive review of the Tote already taking place, according to The Irish Times.

It follows a tricky few-year period for the Tote as the horseracing betting market becomes increasingly competitive with the surge of online operators.

There has also been a reduction in footfall at Irish racetracks, with last year’s figures highlighting a 33.3% drop in total Tote betting, down to €69.2m, which has largely been attributed to a changing international regulatory landscape.

The Tote was impacted by the Israeli government to ban betting into pools, however it has also struggled to make up for the shortcomings in on-course turnover which also fell by 7.7% to just €10.7m.

“If we continue to operate the way it is it will struggle going forward with such a small and competitive market involving bookmakers online and exchanges,” HRI’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh said on Sunday.

The Irish Tote, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of HRI, has been in operation for almost 90 years, and has committed to reinvesting all profits into the horseracing industry in Ireland.

It has been reported that the findings of the review will be presented to the HRI board at its next meeting on 16 December, which will focus on the future of the Tote. No changes can be made until the licence is due for renewal in April of 2021.

“We’ve been looking at the tote for some time, and the board has asked us to bring options back to them,” Kavanagh continued. “If you look at tote business globally, particularly in countries where there’s no monopoly, the on-course business is suffering the same way as on-course bookmaking is trending.

“It looks like there’s move towards consolidation in totes, bigger international pools and stuff like that. They’re some of the options that are under consideration,.”

Kavanagh did not confirm whether the potential sale of the tote to third parties would be for its entirety or for a percentage, however he emphasised that the ongoing review has placed a focus upon a long-term strategy rather than looking at specific negotiations.

He said: “[That is] pre-empting discussions, but all options are being considered. The tote is not specifically HRI’s to sell. It operates on the basis of a licence issued every seven years by the government, and HRI has the technology and the people and the brand product.

“I don’t want to pre-empt anything, but you would have access to capital, access to technology, access to international markets; all these are issues that other parties could bring to the table in a stronger way. If you look at global tote competition, Tote Ireland is a very small element within the context of totes that operate in other countries.”

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