The gaming industry in 2016 had its own version of Monopoly going, with buyouts, sell-offs, mergers, and acquisitions being the name of the game.
Gambling’s power players shook up business interests and realigned companies for the future. Billions of dollars were exchanged, thousands of jobs migrated, and countless player accounts altered, but it all largely took place behind the scenes of the casino industry’s glitz and glamour.
And as is the case with any game on the casino floor, there were both winners and losers.
The internet gaming market continued to grow this year, both domestically and abroad. Additional states considered joining Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware in offering online gambling, and overseas, internet wagering remained consistently popular.
iGaming companies seeking to better their positions for long-term growth sought alliances or divestitures, as best suited their visions. For many, that meant uniting forces with former competitors. As a result, gaming buyouts in 2016 were plentiful.
After lengthy negotiations, GVC Holdings acquired bwin.party for $1.6 billion in February, after outbidding rival 888 Holdings. The deal almost immediately paid dividends for GVC, as bwin revenues jumped five percent in their first quarter under its new parent.
Being acquired made sense for bwin.party, but for Caesars, its unloading of its most profitable subsidiary was out of financial desperation.
In June, Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) sold its Playtika brand to a consortium of Chinese investors for a $4.4 billion all-cash deal. Playtika went from a small startup in 2011 with just 10 employees, to one of the leading social gaming companies in the world under CIE’s leadership.
Caesars does, however, retain ownership of its World Series of Poker (WSOP) brand.
Bookmakers also united.Though the deal was reached in 2015, Paddy Power and Betfair officially joined together in February of this year in a merger valued at $7.6 billion. 888 and Rank Group targeted William Hill, but company Chairman Gareth Davis didn’t budge. In fact, the $4.7 billion offer downright insulted the business leader.
“This proposal is highly opportunistic, complex and poses significant risk for our shareholders,” Davis said back in August.
Atlantic City Meltdown
The summer was steamy this year on the East Coast, and one Atlantic City resort deal melted financially.
Carl Icahn, the billionaire who purchased the fiscally troubled Trump Taj Mahal in February by acquiring Trump Entertainment Resorts, closed the casino resort on October 10. The shutdown came after a months-long battle with the Unite Here Local 54 casino workers union, which demanded higher wagers and the restoration of health and pension benefits.
Icahn claimed he lost $100 million on the Taj buyout.
Just up the boardwalk, another wealthy investor encountered other struggles working in Atlantic City. Glenn Straub, the Florida-based developer who purchased the bankrupt $2.4 billion Revel for $82 million in 2015, grew frustrated working with local leaders.
It took Straub months to obtain the proper traffic and occupancy permits, but the resort reopened as a hotel this fall. Renamed “TEN,” the former Revel now features a ropes and bicycle endurance course, and casino gaming could return in 2017.
Finally, the biggest winner of them all might be MGM Resorts. The company led by CEO Jim Murren went on a spending spree, snapping up the National Harbor resort in Washington, DC.
In Atlantic City, MGM bought out Boyd Gaming’s 50 percent stake in the profitable Borgata to gain total control of the city’s most successful casino.
“While the market continues to experience challenges, Borgata has outperformed and differentiated itself as the undisputed leader in the city,” Murren said in August.