The long-awaited sale of the Tote moved closer to the finishing line as the Government announced the next stage of its £200 million auction.
John Penrose, minister for tourism and heritage, said a shortlist of bidders had been drawn up after receiving 18 takeover proposals for the state-owned betting group.
The statement from the Department for Culture Media and Sport did not reveal the suitors, but added that another update was due in the spring.
Favourites are said to include bookmakers Gala Coral and Betfred, as well as a consortium led by former Ladbrokes chief executive Chris Bell and another bidding team headed by British Airways chairman Sir Martin Broughton.
The Government fired the starting gun on the sale during June’s Budget in the latest attempt to offload the Tote into private hands.
The Tote, which was set up by an Act of Parliament in 1928, has now been lined up to be sold for 10 years.
Ministers aim to resolve the future of the Tote by the end of June and have pledged to share 50% of the net cash proceeds from a sale with the racing industry.
But the Government said the proceeds will be spread out over the period of its spending review as it seeks to slash Britain’s national debt.
Investment bank Lazard is handling the auction and it is understood that shortlisted bidders will now receive a financial report being compiled by accountant Ernst & Young.