Financial

Caesars Auction of William Hill Betting Shops Likely to Draw 888 Holdings, Apollo

Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) put the finishing touches on its $3.69 billion takeover of William Hill less than two weeks ago. As is widely expected, the gaming giant will soon auction off the British bookmaker’s 1,400 retail shops.

A William Hill shop in the UK. Apollo and 888 could bid for those venues. (Image: BBC)

The Las Vegas-based casino operator will put the British bookmaker’s brick-and-mortar locations up for sale in the coming week, reports The Telegraph. That transaction will also include the Europe and UK internet casinos and online sports betting operations. Soon after Caesars revealed its bid for William Hill last September, the suitor made clear it would eventually jettison the target’s European operations.

Private equity firm Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO) — bested by Caesars in the bidding for William Hill — and 888 Holdings are among the likely suitors for the UK-based company’s European assets.

Sources with knowledge of the matter tell The Telegraph that Apollo has the inside track on the sale because it has deeper pockets than 888. Rumors surfaced earlier this year that the Israeli operator of online casinos and poker venues is itself a takeover target. But that remains speculation for now.

Apollo Logical Suitor

In addition to making a run at William Hill, Apollo has been active on the gaming acquisition front in recent months.

It acquired Great Canadian Gaming Corp. (GCGC) and is partnering with VICI Properties to buy the Venetian and Sands Expo and Convention Center on the Las Vegas Strip for $6.25 billion. Additionally, the private equity company already has an asset William Hill’s European unit could be paired with.

The buyout firm would be expected to combine William Hill with Gamenet, an Italian gambling operator it owns, and make cost cuts,” according to The Telegraph.

Last December, Apollo paid $1.15 billion to International Game Technology (NYSE:IGT) for Gamenet Group S.p.A — an Italian digital gaming, gaming machine, and sports wagering operator.

For its part, 888 makes for a logical suitor as well, because the company is more focused on iGaming and poker, indicating a sports wagering buy could nicely complement its existing portfolio.

The Telegraph notes other bidders could include Betfred, though such a move could spur regulatory concerns, because that company has 1,600 retail locations in the UK. Swedish operators Betsson and Kindred could get into the mix, too, because William Hill’s Mr. Green unit is already popular in that country.

Cost Defrayer for Caesars

Already carrying one of the heaviest debt burdens in the gaming industry, Caesar procured $2.03 billion in bridge financing to cement the William Hill takeover. Analysts see the sale of the European assets fetching more than $2 billion at a minimum, meaning Caesars is likely a motivated seller and has use for the proceeds.

A wrinkle could come in the form of the Harrah’s operator attempting to offload its nine UK casinos. Caesars management has long held the view that it’s not keen on international markets, and it would be efficient to sell those venues alongside the William Hill assets.

Apollo has the financial resources and the operational experience to make such a deal happen. But it’s not clear if the private equity shop desires those casinos.

Caesars reportedly was close to selling those venues to a Canadian gaming entity, but that deal fell through, according to The Telegraph.

Todd Shriber

Gaming Financials, Casino Business----Todd Shriber got his start in financial markets as a reporter with Bloomberg News. Later, he became a trader at a Southern California-based long/short hedge fund, where he specialized in trading sector and international ETFs leading up to and during the financial crisis. Currently, he analyzes, researches, and writes on ETFs for a variety of Web-based publications and financial services firms. Shriber has been quoted in Barron's, CNBC.com, and The Wall Street Journal. His work has been published on sites such as Benzinga, ETF Daily News, ETF Trends, MarketWatch, Fox Business, and Nasdaq.com. He joined the Casino.org news writing team in 2019, and lives in Southern California, where he enjoys golf and taking his black lab to the dog park. When in Las Vegas, he likes to wager on college football, the NBA, three-card poker, and roulette, even though he knows better. Email: todd.shriber@casino.org

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Todd Shriber