Will a 888 – Will Hill merge be next?
It's been the busiest year for gaming-industry consolidation since 2005, and the wave of mergers and acquisitions isn't over yet, Bloomberg business news reported Wednesday.
In an assessment of the coming year, the publication notes that governments are pushing taxes and regulatory costs upward at a time when companies are competing for new customers, and as a consequence gambling companies are combining to fight the squeeze on profits.
In 2015 the value of such collaborative deals reached $12.9 billion – almost double that of the preceding year, and the highest in a decade.
The piece quotes Warren Bartlett of Global Betting and Gaming Consultancy, who opines:
"Consolidation will continue, because a trend is in place where globally governments are increasing taxes on gambling. There's a lack of profitability and a need to gain scale."
According to Bartlett, one possible deal would be a takeover of 888 Holdings by William Hill, a transaction that the companies have discussed as recently as this year. Those talks ended in February because of differences over valuation and 888 shares have risen 22 percent since, even after the company was beaten by GVC Holdings in an auction for Bwin.party Digital Entertainment.
The share gain has propelled 888's market value to about GBP 658 million.
Another possibility could see a combination of Unibet Group and Stockholm-based Betsson AB, Bartlett said. The companies rank seventh and 10th, respectively, in his online-gaming rankings.
Unibet, which has a market value of 23.8 billion kronor ($2.8 billion), is based in Malta and its stock is listed in Stockholm. Betsson has a 21.1-billion-kronor market value.
Bloomberg exemplifies the trend by pointing to Paddy Power GBP 2.9 billion takeover of Betfair Group, and points out that there have been 72 deals across the gambling industry in general this year, predicting that there is more to come in 2016, mainly in the Europe, the Middle East and Africa region, albeit not on the same scale.
Paula Murphy, an analyst at Fitch Ratings in London, told Bloomberg:
"There are too many players in the EMEA gaming market, particularly with new online operators. Further consolidation should leave the remaining players better placed to cope with increasing regulation and capital expenditure requirements."
"The very competitive EMEA gaming markets will keep operating margins under pressure over the next three years," she added.
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