William Hill takes a punt on rival bookmaker 888


Click to follow
The Independent Online

William Hill, the UK’s biggest bookmaker, put online rival 888 in its sights yesterday as a mooted £750m takeover added to a flurry of deals in the sector.

Hill’s interest – which sent 888’s shares soaring 26.5p, or 18 per cent, to 171.5p – comes in a climate of industry consolidation in the sector as competitors bulk up to weather tax blows such as December’s new “point of consumption” tax. Another major player, Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment, put itself up for sale in November while last year online poker giant PokerStars was snapped up by Canada’s Amaya Gaming in a $4.9bn deal.

The move on 888 by Hill would be new chief executive James Henderson’s first deal since taking charge and a blow to rival Ladbrokes, whose second attempt to buy the business fell apart in 2011. It would also fit in with Mr Henderson’s stated strategy of expanding the bookie’s already healthy online operation.

Sources said talks over a possible deal had been going on “for a while” although 888’s major shareholders – Israel’s Shaked and Ben-Yitzhak families – who own almost 60 per cent of the business – are said to be keen to hold out for more than the 210p-a-share proposed. 888 confirmed the approach but said there was “no certainty” of an offer. Hill declined to comment.