William Hill, Amaya drop short-lived gambling merger talks

Last Updated: Tue, Oct 18, 2016 15:44 hrs
A branded sign is displayed outside a William Hill betting shop in London

By Kate Holton and Simon Jessop

LONDON (Reuters) - William Hill and Canadian online gambling company Amaya Inc have abandoned merger talks, leaving the British bookmaker struggling to find a partner in a fast consolidating industry.

Amaya, operator of the PokerStars website, and William Hill, one of the best known British gambling brands, said earlier this month that they were in talks about a merger of equals but the deal was thrown into doubt days later when a leading investor in William Hill said it would oppose the plan.

The Canadian company said it had decided it could best deliver shareholder value by remaining an independent company, while William Hill said it had decided to walk away after canvassing its biggest investors.

William Hill investor Parvus Asset Management, which came out against the Amaya deal last week, welcomed the news.

"We're pleased that the board has decided to cancel the talks with Amaya, and from our perspective, we're looking forward to working constructively with the board with regard to creating shareholder value for William Hill owners," Parvus co-founder Mads Gensmann said.

William Hill is looking increasingly isolated after European rivals Paddy Power and Betfair joined forces, while Ladbrokes agreed to unite with unlisted Gala Coral.

Betting companies are facing tighter regulation and higher taxes in countries such as Britain and need to adapt to an environment in which younger and more tech-savvy gamblers are increasingly betting online or via smartphone.

LOOKING FOR ALTERNATIVES

William Hill appears to have lost momentum after long-serving Chief Executive Ralph Topping left the company two years ago. His successor James Henderson departed in July after the board said he was failing to deliver enough growth in online and international gambling.

The company subsequently rejected a joint takeover approach from smaller online rival 888 and casinos and bingo halls operator Rank Group in August.

That turned the tables on William Hill which had made a 720 million pound ($895 million) bid for 888 last year.

In its statement on Tuesday, William Hill said it was focusing on the priorities set out by interim CEO Philip Bowcock -- online, technology, efficiencies and international.

It said the company would "continue to consider strategic alternatives where they have the potential to create shareholder value."

William Hill said trading had continued to be positive in the second half of the year and it expects operating profit for 2016 to be at the top end of the previously guided range of 260 million pounds to 280 million pounds.

Its shares added 1.5 percent to 309.6 pence, valuing the company at around 2.65 billion pounds

Amaya said it had been informed by its former chief executive, David Baazov, that he remained interested in buying the company but that the firm had not received an offer capable of resulting in a transaction.

Amaya said in February it had received a non-binding proposal from Baazov to take the company private, but the formal bid never came. ($1 = 0.8042 pounds)

(Editing by Keith Weir)



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