Austrian sports bet firm may attract bid

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The Independent Online

PartyGaming is sizing up a bid for parts of Bwin, although the Austrian gaming group said yesterday it was not in formal discussions.

Bwin has come under pressure in recent months as a result of bans on private bookmakers imposed by a number of European countries where it has operations. The company said it had held talks with major rivals over the possibility of improving co-operation through the European Betting Association.

However, PartyGaming has done four deals in the past 12 months and is keen to add further acquisitions despite the hammer blow dealt to its business by anti-gambling legislation that has forced the closure of its US-facing operations.

Bwin is one of the companies on its list of potential targets, and a deal would fit with Party's ambitions to grow its sports betting operations. Party has also held informal talks with 888 Holdings, with which it shares a building in Gibraltar, but faces a battle with Ladbrokes. Over the weekend, the bookmaker was forced to confirm it was "reviewing" a possible bid.

Yesterday, shares in Ladbrokes closed 10.75p higher at 420.75p, while 888 gained 10p to 120.5p. PartyGaming put on 1.25p to 28.75p.

888 would double the size of Ladbrokes' internet operations, and give it ownership of its own gaming technology. The company currently uses Microgaming for activities such as online poker and online casino games.

Analysts at Evolution Securities, however, warned that a deal with 888 could create significant risks for Ladbrokes. They said: "The one uncertainty we have is whether 888 has effectively capped its exposure to a potential class action from the US by closing its US-facing websites."