William Hill was bought by Caesars Entertainment earlier this year in a deal worth £2.9bn
The owner of Ladbrokes and Coral is running the rule over William Hill’s European business, raising the prospect of a swoop for parts of the British bookmaker.
Entain, the FTSE 100 group that also includes bwin and Partypoker, is looking at William Hill’s assets outside of the US in what City sources said is more likely to be a benchmarking exercise.
Sources said that buyout giant Apollo Global Management is the favourite to prevail in an auction that is expected to fetch £1.2bn. “It is Apollo’s to lose,” one insider said.
William Hill was bought by Caesars Entertainment earlier this year in a deal worth £2.9bn. The Las Vegas casino operator said that it would offload the bookmaker’s 1,400 UK betting shops and online business in Europe. An auction was kicked off in May and first-round bids are due on Tuesday.
Apollo originally flirted with gatecrashing Caesars swoop to buy the whole of William Hill. The diligence it performed last autumn is understood to have given the buyout giant a head start on its rivals.
The Israeli owners of 888 Holdings remain keen to make a bid. The Shaked family, the FTSE 250 bookmaker’s founders and 23pc shareholders, are pushing executives to make an offer – but insiders fear it will struggle to match Apollo’s offer.
Fred Done, the 78-year-old billionaire founder of Betfred, is interested in William Hill’s betting shops, and sources did not rule out him joining forces with the likes of 888 or even Entain to carve the business up.
But Mr Done is likely to face competition hurdles. Already the operator across 1,600 sites in the UK, adding the William Hill shops would hand him almost half of Britain’s offline market.
Insiders said that Apollo’s bid is appealing to Caesars because it will allow the casino to offload the parts of William Hill it does not want in one deal, rather than embark on a complicated piecemeal sell-off.
Apollo is understood to have plans to put William Hill at the centre of a pan-European business that also includes Italy’s Lottomatica, which the US fund acquired at the end of last year for nearly €1bn (£860m). William Hill’s current management team, which includes chief Ulrik Bengtsson, is likely to stay.
The UK betting shops are also believed to hold appeal for the US fund. And while insiders would not rule out shutting a small number of sites, it had no plans for wholesale closures and was already looking at changing the mix of sports across the different UK sites.
Apollo and Entain are currently duking it out in the $4bn (£2.89bn) race to buy Tabcorp, one of Australia’s biggest gambling operators.
All parties declined to comment.
Source: Daily Telegraph