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Flutter suspends 2020 dividend amid coronavirus betting slump

By Padraic Halpin

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Paddy Power Betfair parent Flutter Entertainment <FLTRF.I> will pay its 2019 dividend in ordinary shares, shelve a pro-rated dividend in relation to its merger with Stars Group Inc (TSG) <TSGI.TO> and suspend the 2020 dividend for the combined group.

The Irish betting group announced the changes in response to the coronavirus outbreak that it estimated earlier this month would have at least a 90 to 110 million pound impact on full-year earnings if curbs on sports fixtures remained in place until the end of August.

Disruption to global online betting and gaming is expected to impact the financial profile of the combined group in the current financial year, Flutter said on Friday, likely pushing its net debt at the end of the first reporting period following completion above 3.5 times core earnings.

While Flutter said the group has flexibility to maintain leverage at higher ratios, it was committed to a ratio of 1.0x to 2.0x over the medium-term, making it prudent to suspend the dividend while its board "monitors the sporting calendar, associated performance of sports betting as well as the combined group's anticipated deleveraging and balance sheet position".

Poker Stars operator TSG has never declared or paid dividends and is not expected to do so prior to completion, it added.

Flutter agreed last October to buy the Canadian group in a $6 billion (4.92 billion pounds) share deal set to create the world's largest online betting and gambling company by revenue.

Flutter also said on Friday it had entered into new debt arrangements, contingent only on completion of the deal, comprising a term loan and revolving credit facility totalling 1.3 billion pounds to refinance existing Flutter and TSG debt as well as providing ongoing financial flexibility.

"In these challenging times, I am more convinced than ever of the strategic fit of these two complementary businesses," Flutter CEO Peter Jackson, who will retain his role in the combined group, said in a statement.

He said the pair would continue to work with various competition and anti-trust authorities globally to secure the few remaining approvals required and that both companies would ask shareholders to approve the deal in late April.



(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Mark Potter and Barbara Lewis)