888 AND RANK IN BID FOR WILLIAM HILL PLC?
Widespread weekend reports that Rank and 888 are in alliance talks with a view to acquiring struggling William Hill.
In an otherwise quiet online gambling weekend news-wise, widespread reports emerged Sunday that the Rank and 888 Holdings groups are talking about joining forces with the goal of making an acquisition offer on William Hill plc.
Ranks chief executive, Henry Birch, is a former head of William Hills online division.
James Henderson, CEO of William Hill, stepped down last week after the struggling company issued profit warnings and analysts reported that over the past 12 months the groups share value has dropped 31 percent and hit a three-year low in June (see previous InfoPowa reports). The once successful online gambling division saw profits fall 11 percent recently.
A joint 888-Rank acquisition of William Hill would create an online and land gambling leviathan in the UK, with an estimated market value north of GBP 3 billion.
In a joint statement, 888 and Rank confirmed the reports to the Reuters news agency, commenting:
"The Consortium sees significant industrial logic in the combination, through consolidation of their complementary online and land-based operations, delivery of substantial revenue and cost synergies and from the anticipated benefits of economies of scale."
The companies added that no formal approach had yet been made to William Hills board, and there can be no certainty that any transaction will take place.
Under British takeover rules, the companies have until August 21 to make a firm offer or else walk away.
William Hill was initially successful in the online market in gambling with early entry, innovation and a partnership with Playtech in William Hill Online.
However, when William Hill bought Playtech out, the companys fortunes started to fade and allied to increased taxation and regulatory expenses it has seen profits dwindle. In the retail business, the group is a market leader with 2,370 bookmakers on the high street.
The company has a significant Australian market presence, having taken over the Sportingbet, Centrebet and Tom Waterhouse brands.
Ironically, last year William Hill launched a GBP 720 million bid to acquire 888, but the initiative failed after the Shaked family – a major shareholder in 888 – rejected the consideration offered.
888 itself subsequently lost a bidding war with GVC Holdings for ownership of the Bwin Party group.
Over the past 12 months 888s shares have soared by 29 percent, valuing the company at GBP 800 million, while Ranks stock has slipped 3 percent, making it worth about GBP 935 million.
Since the failure of William Hills bid to acquire 888, the industry has seen major changes with the GBP 2.3 billion merger negotiations of Gala-Coral and Ladbrokes, and those of Paddy Power and Betfair.
William Hill has yet to comment on the reports of a possible Rank-888 acquisition bid.
A spokesman for William Hill subsequently told the BBC that the company would "listen to and consider" any proposal, but warned that it was not clear that a combination of William Hill, 888 and Rank would "deliver superior value".