James Moore: Betfair takeover deal fell at the last hurdle, but the sport is not over yet
After a big song and dance about how Betfair could be a winner without CVC's anabolic steroids, the gambling firm started playing footsie with its stalker over the weekend.
A proper takeover bid was still as highly conditional as ever; it would have required (deep breath) access to Betfair's books, a board recommendation, appropriate financing (good luck) and, unstated but implied, the existing management signing up to work with the new owners.
But with CVC getting to 950p a share and staying in the game despite the rejection of this "full and final" proposal, Betfair's board started to get interested, and the put up or shut up order from the Takeover Panel – requiring that CVC table a proper bid by Monday or walk away – was extended for a day at Betfair's request.
Only for CVC to fall at the last.
What led to the end of the Bet-affair?
It's worth remembering here that it wasn't all that long ago that Betfair floated at £13, but it seems that price wasn't the issue at the end so much as strategy.
According to Betfair, talks broke down over the business plan that management would have been required to put into place.
To justify the price tag, they would (it seems) have had to perform a volte-face on chief executive Breon Corcoran's decision to walk away from all those "grey" markets where Betfair's operations are of dubious legality.
Those territories could potentially be worth a lot of money to Betfair, even if CVC hadn't knocked its door.
Betfair's product is a compelling one to anyone who has ever placed a bet. You can lay horses to lose, as well as backing them to win. The same for football teams, rugby teams, or anything else people stake money on. You can trade in and out of positions on a huge variety of markets, locking in gains, or mitigating losses. For the sophisticated punter, and a lot of amateurs, it can be a godsend. Doubly so in places which have sought to restrict gambling to fusty and inefficient state monopolies.
The problem is that re-entering those markets would require Betfair to thumb its nose at the authorities that oversee them. And that would require executives to be very careful about their holiday plans. Or even their flight plans if said flights were to involve stopovers in the wrong airports. A blockbuster private equity pay package isn't worth very much from the inside of a jail cell – as certain poker executives found to their cost when they sought to test the will of the US Department of Justice, whose zeal in pursuing gambling execs was subsequently matched by the law enforcement agencies of certain European countries.
Mr Corcoran is sharp enough to have learnt from their mistakes, and happily for him and his team, Betfair's shares have retained much of the froth that came with the first news of CVC's interest. The company will say that this is because investors have faith in the ex-Paddy Power man's business plan. We hear you, Breon! But despite the fact that the more one looks at CVC's proposal, the less credibility it has, the market believes that Betfair is now in play, and that we'll be here again before too long.
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