Shockwaves Through The Industry - 888 And Rank Looking To Take Over Britain’s Biggest Bookmaker

Gabe Morency

Monday, August 15, 2016 2:45 AM UTC

Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 2:45 AM UTC

888 and Rank have been given until August 21 to make another firm bid for William Hill after their initial offer was rejected.  The duo is plotting an audacious scheme to join forces and then.
<p>888 and Rank have been given until August 21 to make another firm bid for William Hill after their initial offer was rejected.  The duo is plotting an audacious scheme to join forces and then perform a reverse takeover on <a href=";book=William Hill">William Hill</a>, Britain’s biggest bookmaker. But their initial bid valuing Hills at £3.2 billion was rebuffed by an angry William Hill chairman, who told them to seriously increase the offer or desist.</p><p>Gareth Davis laughed the offer out and branded it “highly opportunistic” as it involved two small rivals trying to take over a giant of the industry. Only last year William Hill tried to buy online bookmaker 888 for £700 million, but ultimately failed when 888’s largest shareholder dug his feet in.</p><p>Now 888 is trying to take over casino and bingo hall operator Rank Group to then take over William Hill for £3.2 billion. It is a highly ambitious move for a company valued at £700 million, and Hills’ board said it saw little merit in the bid. 888 and Rank insist synergies between themselves and William Hill would lead to an all-singing, all-dancing supergroup that could rival anyone.</p><p>William Hill called it a three-way marriage of inconvenience. It was interested in 888’s technology when it tried to buy the firm last year, but after it failed it has instead invested in its own technology and says the synergies would not amount to much. 888 and Rank – who would form an acquiring entity called BidCo to try to buy William Hill – are expected to increase their offer by £183million, valuing William Hill at 385p per share. It may well get laughed out again with a bid like this. But it serves to illustrate how vulnerable William Hill – the grand old dame of UK bookmaking – is in this brave new world of consolidation, of mergers and acquisitions.</p><p>First <a href=";book=Paddypower">Paddy Power</a> sent shockwaves through the industry by taking over Betfair and creating an enormous group that actually does have real synergy. Then Ladbrokes announced it was buying Coral, and that deal is finally starting to progress after holdups by the competition watchdog. The watchdog previously scuppered a merger between Ladbrokes and Coral a couple of decades ago as it would make the group too dominant on the UK high street. Things have since moved on an online is the real prize, where retail giants like Hills, <a href=";book=Ladbrokes">Ladbrokes</a>, Coral and Betfred are competing with the likes of <a href=";book=Bet365">Bet365</a> and Sky Bet.</p><p>The Competition and Markets Authority has just ruled that the Ladbrokes Coral merger can go ahead provided the combined group sells 360 betting shops in locations across the UK where it would become too dominant and thus make things anti-competitive for local punters. Betfred was said to be interested in snapping them up, but Boylesports has stolen a march by tying up a £100 million to take on the stores.</p><p>That paves the way for Ladbrokes and Coral to pool resources, usurping William Hill as the UK’s number one. If William Hill continues to rebuff 888 and Rank it seems like it needs to get on the acquisition trail or risk being left behind. It has ruled out another bid for 888, but there are other options.</p><p>It posted a 1% rise in revenues to £814.4m in the 26 weeks to June 28 as solid trading around the Euro 2016 football tournament offset a disappointing Cheltenham festival, and if it does not expand it could be on the end of another takeover bid as it is an attractive proposition, with Sky Bet owner CVC, a private equity group, rumoured to be interested.</p>
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