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Former Ladbrokes boss frontrunner for Tote bid

There are, however, other strong contenders looking to acquire the Wigan-based business

Former chief executive of Ladbrokes Chris Bell has reportedly teamed up with US private equity firm GI Partners to submit a bid of at least £200m for the government-owned Tote Bookmakers, thus making him the frontrunner in the race to buy the business.

According to the Times, besides GI Partners, Bell's team includes the Royal Bank of Scotland, Piers Pottinger, the racehorse owner and the deputy chairman of Chime Communications, as well as former Ladbrokes colleagues.

Refusing either to confirm or deny the development, Bell told the Times, "I'm looking at lots of things at the moment. Tote fits with my experience and I'm very interested in it."

However, there are other strong contenders looking to acquire the Wigan-based business, the likes of which include the billionaire Reuben brothers, who own Northern Racing; Gala Coral, the recently refinanced gambling behemoth; and Martin Broughton, the British Airways chairman.

The Times has learnt that Andy Stewart, the founder of Cenkos Securities, and Betfred, the bookmaker owned by the Done family, are also keen to buy the business.

The Tote, which has 517 shops, a call centre handling telephone bets and a network of trackside betting facilities, is valued at between £200m and £250m.