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William Hill betting shop empire up for sale

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·3-min read
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William Hill
William Hill

A Wall Street buyout firm is preparing for battle with the Israeli gambling tycoons behind 888 Holdings as 1,400 William Hill betting shops go under the hammer.

Apollo Global Management will take on the Shaked family, 888 Holdings’ founding shareholders, as an auction for the bookmaker’s UK and European businesses gets under way.

Caesars Entertainment will kick off the sale of the bookmaker’s non-US assets in the coming weeks, The Telegraph has learnt. The Las Vegas casino giant completed a deal to buy one of the oldest names in British gambling outright for £2.9bn last month but has signalled it is only interested in retaining the fast-growing American business.

Deal insiders said that Apollo is in pole position to acquire the unwanted William Hill assets, which include its high street shops, as well as its UK and European online businesses. The auction could fetch up to £1.5bn, analysts say.

Apollo is well prepared for the sale after it considered a bid for the whole of William Hill last year and gained access to its books after expressing interest.

The buyout firm, which was pipped in an auction of the supermarket Asda last autumn, would be expected to combine William Hill with Gamenet, an Italian gambling operator it owns, and make cost cuts.

William Hill
William Hill

The FTSE 250 gambling operator 888 Holdings has made little secret of its interest in William Hill’s businesses outside of the US. Its boss Itai Pazner told analysts last week: “We have mentioned William Hill in the past, that could be something that we would be looking at. And I won’t change my comment on that.”

It has had a successful pandemic as punters have flocked online in lockdown. 888 Holdings’ shares have trebled in value over the last year and the Shaked’s 23pc stake is now worth more than £350m.

Analysts have suggested that William Hill’s sporting pedigree would complement 888 Holdings, which is more focused on casino and poker gambling.

However, deal insiders questioned if it would be able to match a bid from Apollo, which will be able to fund a deal with more debt than its listed rival.

Fred Done, the British billionaire behind Betfred, was this weekend still considering his options as to whether he would make a bid. He is understood to be most interested in William Hill’s shops. However, as the operator of 1,600 of its own high street shops Mr Done would be likely to face competition hurdles. The combination would account for 44pc of offline gambling in the UK.

Others could spring a surprise. Swedish duo Kindred, the owner of 32Red, and Betsson may also be interested. Among William Hill’s European assets is Mr Green, another popular Swedish brand.

The auction of what is left of the 87-year-old company is expected to be announced in summer and may not be completed until the end of the year.

Caesars signalled its plans to sell off William Hill’s non-US units from the outset of bidding last autumn. William Hill was one of the first UK operators in America, which is now in the grip of a gambling gold rush after a decades-long ban on gambling was overturned.

Caesars also planned to sell its nine UK casinos, which include the Playboy London and Empire. The Sunday Telegraph understands that a deal to offload them to Canadian operator Sonco Gaming recently fell through and the venues are back on the market. All parties did not comment.

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