Ladbroke joins bidding battle for Inter-Continental hotel chain

Ladbroke, the hotel and casino operator, has joined the bidding battle for Inter-Continental, the hotel chain which has been put up for sale by its Japanese owners.

However, Ladbroke is understood to be just one of a number of bidders, and the process is likely to take about six weeks.

Saison, Inter-Continental's Japanese owner, had initially planned to float the group on the stock market. However, the group is believed to have attracted a string of high-profile buyers from around the world.

Others thought to be interested in the 215-strong hotel chain are Bass, which owns the Holiday Inn chain and has built up a sizeable war chest, as well as US groups Marriott and Starwood. Possible valuations are hazy, because Saison is privately owned and does not have to file comprehensive accounts. But Saison paid pounds 1.2bn for Inter-Continental when it took the group over from GrandMet in 1988.

Any deal would stretch Ladbroke's balance sheet. The group's acquisition of Coral, the bookmaker, from Bass on New Year's Day for pounds 376m took its borrowings to more than pounds 1bn. Although Ladbroke could finance a bid, it would struggle to match the likes of Bass for sheer fire-power.

One option for Ladbroke would be to mount a joint bid with another investor, though suggestions that the group had found a partner were last night dismissed by industry experts.