Private equity rivals Advent International and Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO) will tussle for William Hill’s non-US assets, which Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) is in the process of putting up for auction.
Apollo has long been viewed as a leading contender for William Hill’s High Street betting shops and the European online gaming business — among the operations Caesars is looking to divest. The private equity firm’s interest in those assets dates back to last fall, when it tried to acquire the UK bookmaker outright before losing out to Caesars.
However, the arrival of Boston-based Advent onto the scene is new and unexpected. Like Apollo, Advent has deep pockets. It’s the sixth-largest private equity shop in the world (Apollo is number four), meaning it can easily digest Caesars’ selling price for William Hill’s international units. The auction is expected to begin at $1.65 billion, but some analysts previously said it could stretch to $2 billion.
Prior to news of Advent’s interest in the William Hill units emerging, Apollo and 888 Holdings were widely seen as the leading contenders. 888 is already involved with in iGaming and online poker, but it’s trying to bolster it’s sports betting exposure as well.
Advent’s entry into the fray for the William Hill operations is a testament to the allure of the mature UK sports wagering market and growing opportunities in the European online gaming market.
However, unlike 888 and Apollo, Advent lacks direct gaming experience. Since its inception in 1989, the private equity shop invested in 376 enterprises in 42 countries. While plenty of those companies are in the consumer cyclical category, none are casinos or sportsbooks.
Conversely, 888 is obviously a gaming company, and Apollo is an established player in the betting space, including in Europe. Last December, Gamenet Group S.p.A, an affiliate of the private equity shop, paid $1.5 billion for International Game Technology’s (NYSE:IGT) Italian digital gaming, gaming machine, and sports wagering operations.
Apollo also recently purchased Great Canadian Gaming and the Venetian, Palazzo and Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas. In other words, it has the gaming experience UK regulators may want to see in regards to the William Hill divestments. Advent does not.
For now, it appears as though 888, Advent, and Apollo are the primary bidders for the William Hill assets. But with the auction process still in its early innings, it’s possible other suitors emerge.
Reports suggest Entain Plc (OTC:GMVHY), which is already a giant in the UK betting market, could get involved. But some analysts see that more as an effort to gauge the value of its Coral and Ladbrokes shops.
Betfred — another UK bookmaker — is rumored to have interest in the William Hill units. But to this point, that’s just speculation. Owing to William Hill controlling some well-known sports wagering brands in Sweden, there’s chatter that operators from that country could join the bidding party. But that’s also just conjecture at this juncture.