With 888.com shareholders set to vote next Monday, May 16, on acquiring the non-US assets of UK gambling icon William Hill, the longest-running takeover saga of recent times may finally be coming to climax.
From the initial announcement in September 2020 that Caesars Entertainment Inc. was to buy William Hill Plc. for £2.9 billion (US$3.58bn/€3.39bn), this fascinating race has been more marathon than sprint.
In the midst of COVID-19 pandemic gloom and financial downturn, mighty Caesars were always upfront about their strategic acquisition: In the main, they wanted WH’s cutting-edge online expertise and nothing else.
Once the dust had settled on the takeover deal, they were going to off-load William Hill’s non-US assets, which included all those emblematic high street betting shops in the UK and Ireland, iGaming across Europe and operations in Spain and Italy.
A selling price of around £2 billion (US$2.47bn/€2.33bn) was mooted for these non-US verticals, which effectively meant that Caesars were seizing the remaining 80 per cent share of its joint American venture with William Hill for around £900 million (US$1.11bn/€1.05bn).
In the event, 888 have agreed a buying price of £585 million (US$722.22m/€683.67m) with Caesars; the Americans taking a £250 million hit (US$308.6m/€292.1m) because of regulatory uncertainty around WH’s British operations — and the anticipated fiscal impact of impending amendments to the UK’s 2005 Gambling Act.
In what is effectively a reverse takeover, 888 Holdings has boosted the rationale of its William Hill bid to shareholders by noting in a company statement that the proposed new business would be “the third largest publicly traded online gambling operator in the world.
“[The deal] represents a transformational opportunity for 888 to significantly increase its scale, further diversify and strengthen its product mix, and build leading positions across several of its key markets,” the missive argued.
Last year non-US William Hill garnered revenue of £1.24 billion (US$1.53bn/€1.45bn), up seven per cent on 2020 but down almost 15 per cent on pre-pandemic 2019.
Stats aside, one bet is sure.
If 888’s acquisition of non-US William Hill is indeed finalised heavy job losses across the merged infrastructure will result in swingeing job losses.
A bum note on which to end such a plaintive ballad.