Bring Out the Safety Car, Playtech Restarts £2.7bn Takeover

In an uncanny rerun of Formula One’s end-of-season race in Abu Dhabi, where Lewis Hamilton was controversially robbed of the World Championship on the last lap, gambling technology group Playtech have put the brakes on their proposed £2.7 billion takeover by Aussie slots giant Aristocrat (US$3.65bn/€3.22bn).

Playtech, founded by Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi in 1999 and now the world’s biggest gaming software group, have decided to send out the proverbial safety car and delay a shareholder vote on the deal with Aristocrat.

Taking advantage of the technical pit stop, and coming up fast on the inside track, is rival race JKO Play – a corporate raider helmed by former F1 boss Eddie Jordan.

Charismatic, fast-talking Jordan–who gave Michael Schumacher and Ayrton Senna their first starts in F1–founded JKO with fellow Irishman Keith O’Loughlin, a former executive of US-listed slot machine maker Scientific Games, as an investment and acquisition vehicle specifically targeting the gaming sector.

They joined the race to takeover Playtech in November but it looked like they had been beaten by Aristocrat’s £2.7 billion offer.

Playtech shares, meantime, have surged to around the 720 mark and are well up on Aristocrat’s initial 680 pence-a-share offer. Jordan’s JKO obviously sees a grand opportunity to exploit the gap and pip their rivals to the chequered flag.

While Playtech directors assure industry watchers that Aristocrat remain front-runners, the software group has nevertheless pushed back its shareholder meeting for formal approval of the Australian deal from January 12 to February 2 – giving JKO the time to pull off a last-minute overtake, or what’s now known in F1 parlance as a “Verstappen”.

“Discussions with JKO are progressing. JKO has asked that it be provided with more time to develop the terms of its potential offer for the company,” Playtech said in a company statement yesterday (January 5).

JKO now have until January 26 to overtake Aristocrat or pull over.

Aristocrat for its part says its bid “remains the only firm offer. [The process] is well on track and [we are] committed to completing the acquisition as quickly as possible.”

“JKO have already had a substantial amount of time to make an alternative proposal for Playtech.

“The decision to further delay the relevant shareholder meetings extends the period of uncertainty for all Playtech stakeholders.”

Question is. Have Aristocrat got enough time to change tyres and fend off hard-charging JKO.

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