Want to place a bet on who’ll be the successful suitor for Bwin.party?

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The Independent Online

Having meandered rather aimlessly for a couple of years, the awkwardly named Bwin.party suddenly finds itself cast in the role of Portia in The Merchant of Venice, beset by suitors on all sides.

Lining up to try its luck alongside the AIM-listed GVC, in cahoots with the Canadian gaming group Amaya, is 888 Holdings, fresh from having spurned William Hill’s affections. William Hill has gone home. But perhaps it wouldn’t come as any great surprise to find another handsome young private equity prince with eyes on the prize before the dancing is done.

Bwin.party is already the creation of one marriage, but the drivers towards the second appear obvious. The authorities in places where online gaming is more or less legal are exacting an ever higher price for making it so. No one really objects when governments turn the screw on gambling companies. Even their customers like to see them getting burned (although they’d much rather it was them striking the matches than the taxman).

But that leaves them in a bit of a bind with their investors, who tend to be fond of earnings and revenues that grow rather than decline. Hence the merger mania. If governments are squeezing you it makes sense to try to recover some of what you’ve lost by joining forces with your rivals and generating cost and revenue synergies.

The trouble is that this is easier said than done, which is why Bwin.party is proving so attractive. It has all but said: “Rescue me!”

Unfortunately for its suitors, it might be more of a Lady Macbeth than a Portia.

But as anyone who has seen Merchant will realise, the subplot involving Portia’s suitors sees them offered their choice of three boxes: gold, silver and lead, each of which bears an inscription.

Lead is the correct choice. It reads: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”. That is rather apt when one considers what might happen should one of this lot get their hands on Bwin.

Perhaps a better comparison for all those involved in this little drama might be with some of Shakespeare’s famous drunkards. A Sir John Falstaff and a Sir Toby Belch linking arms on the way home. Because as one industry insider remarked to me after being asked for their views on a Bwin merger: “Two drunks getting together don’t necessarily walk in a straight line.”

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Profit warnings at the chocolatier slowed in the four years with Jonathan Hart as chief executive – but did not disappear

Thorntons’ good fortune set to melt away

 Sometimes the weather has been too hot for Thorntons to meet analysts’ forecasts. I vaguely remember it might once have been too cold.

Profit warnings that the company has tried to sweeten a bit with excuses have been a rather regular feature of this company’s stock exchange announcements. Last year, however, there was a real shocker. The chocolatier started to surprise on the upside. After a painful period during which stores were closed and hundreds of jobs axed, the turnaround appeared to be under way. The company was positively cock-a-hoop, reporting rising profits and rising sales. Yummy!

Sadly, it all seems to have melted away faster than a slab of the company’s finest dropped into a hot saucepan. Now Jonathan  Hart, the chief executive, has melted away with it. There’ll be no trace of him at head office by the end of June.

The trouble is that while Thorntons’ slimmed down retail estate might now be doing a bit better, its manufacturing and distribution side has been suffering. That’s not good when you want other people to sell your product for you.

Chief operating officer Barry Bloomer will now be responsible for keeping things ticking over (if that’s actually possible with this business) while a successor is sought.

It’s not a requirement for candidates to have a ready store of creative, but plausible, excuses at the ready. But perhaps the interview panel will look favourably on applicants who can demonstrate the ability to come up with them?

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Generalists such as BHS are finding the new high street environment particularly hard to cope with

BHS struggles to stay in fashion on the high street

 Talking of struggling retailers, Darren Topp has pledged to restore BHS to its “rightful position” on the high street.

Oh dear. The point is that BHS doesn’t have a “rightful place” on the high street any more. The high street has moved on (and online) and generalists such as BHS are finding the new environment particularly hard to cope with.

Nonetheless Mr Topp has been outlining his plans for proving me wrong about its chances. These include entering into more tie-ups with other retailers, which might help a bit. It is at least an idea that is a bit more fashionable than some of BHS’s clothes.

However, while having a premium food offering has proved to be a winner for M&S, another struggling generalist, Mr Topp talking about buffing up BHS’s offer is where things start to get sticky. The turmoil in food retailing is causing difficulties for even its brightest stars. BHS is not one of those.

Mr Topp owes his position at BHS to the fact that Sir Philip Green, no less, failed to find a place for the retailer, either on the high street or in his portfolio.

If Mr Topp has the answer that eluded Sir Philip, then he might just be joining the pantheon of retail royalty. But I wouldn’t be knocking on his door selling crowns as things stand.

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