Football Pools sale called off by owner Sportech

WBA v Manchester City Image copyright Reuters

The planned sale of the Football Pools betting business has been called off, its owner Sportech has said.

In September, Sportech announced it was in talks to sell the 93-year-old firm to Burlywood Capital for £97.25m.

But the discussions with Burlywood, a group of gambling industry investors, have now been terminated.

"Burlywood was unable to conclude the transaction set out within their proposal," said Ian Penrose, Sportech's boss.

The company said it would "continue to focus on maximising opportunities for the business".

The Football Pools, the world's oldest football gaming business, were once the main way to gamble on football, boasting 10 million customers at its height.

The pools are now played by about 300,000 people.

Players of the pools, the world's oldest football gaming business, pick up to 12 matches that they predict will finish in a draw.

'Spend, spend, spend'

The business began in 1923 in Manchester, with Littlewoods selling coupons outside Old Trafford football ground.

At the time Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald declared it a sinister means of spreading gambling fever, warning of "a disease which spread downwards to the industrious poor from the idle rich".

Despite the warnings, it exploded in popularity and has gone on to hand out more than £3bn in prizes.

Famous winners include West Yorkshire factory worker Viv Nicholson who, along with her husband, scooped £152,319 in 1961, the equivalent of about £3m today, and vowed to "spend, spend, spend" her winnings.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Comedian Bruce Forsyth (right) presents the winners cheque to Yorkshire miner Keith Howard Nicholson and his wife Vivian

In recent years, though, it has struggled to add new customers amid intense competition from online betting and the National Lottery.

Sportech gave it a refresh after combining the pools brands by buying Littlewoods Gaming in 2000, Zetters in 2002 and Vernons in 2007.

Its efforts have helped to stem the decline, with the business last year making sales of £33.8m and profits of £15.2m.

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