William Hill saddles up for float

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The Independent Online
NOMURA, the Japanese bank, is gearing up for a January flotation of William Hill, the UK's second largest bookmaker, in a deal worth up to a pounds 1bn, writes Francesco Guerrera.

The listing will surprise many City analysts as it comes just over a year after the financial house bought the 1,530 William Hill shops for pounds 700m from the ailing leisure group Brent Walker.

Nomura recently said that it was looking at spinning off William Hill during the first part of 1999 but it is believed to have brought the flotation forward to exploit the recent bull run in the London stock market.

The Japanese bank is working with its advisers Warburg Dillon Read and Deutsche Bank to whip up investors' interest in the float.

The companies declined to comment yesterday but insiders said that the listing was likely to take place towards the end of January to give Nomura time to organise a roadshow and contact retail investors. However, they cautioned that it could be called off if the market was to suffer a sharp downturn.

Shares in William Hill are expected to attract considerable interest from small investors. City institutions will also be keen to build up a presence in one of the country's largest bookmakers.

William Hill, which last year had a turnover of more than pounds 1.5bn, controls around 17 per cent of the betting market behind Ladbroke's 22 per cent. It is also the largest player in the fast-growing telephone betting sector, with a 42 per cent share.

The disposal of William Hill will be a landmark in Nomura's recent history. The bookie was part of an ambitious string of acquisitions by the bank's Principal Finance unit, headed by Guy Hands, which included thousands of pubs, the rolling stock company Angel Train and Ministry of Defence Houses.