Press leak blamed for William Hill deal failure

A press leak was one of the main reasons that 888 Holdings and Rank Group failed in their £3.1bn pursuit of UK bookmaker William Hill, according to 888 chief executive Itai Frieberger.

The suitors announced their interest in buying William Hill on July 24, only hours after their plans were reported by the Sunday Times newspaper.

The disclosure started the regulatory clock ticking, giving them less than a month to make a formal offer or walk away.

After an increased proposal failed to gain the ear of William Hill’s board, they gave up on their plans and are now barred from making a hostile bid for at least six months unless someone else does.

“The leak didn’t allow us to have a conversation behind closed doors,” Mr Frieberger said yesterday after 888 reported higher first-half earnings and revenue.

“That’s one of the root causes of why we couldn’t progress it. Before we could make a call to William Hill, it was all over the press. That is very unfortunate.”

The gaming industry has become a stamping ground for deals as companies seek greater scale amid a rush to capitalise on the booming online wagering market.

The combination of 888, Rank and William Hill would have created Britain’s largest gaming company across all platforms, though stumbled after the bookmaker rejected the terms of a cash-and-share proposal. Still, 888 has room to grow, Mr Frieberger said.

“We don’t see M&A as a critical path in the way 888 moves forward,” he said. “The only reason we will do a deal is to create additional shareholder value.”

888 yesterday said a strong first-half performance continued into the third quarter. Average daily revenue per customer rose 22% on a like-for-like basis since the start of the third quarter.

“We suspect that the combination of impressive momentum, market-leading technology and ambitious management means it may yet participate in the ongoing industry consolidation,” said Richard Stuber, an analyst at Numis.

888’s biggest strength is in online casinos, where first-half revenue rose 31% percent to $137.4m. The smaller sports betting business boosted sales 63% to $25m, helped by Euro 2016.


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