City Gambles on Gaming Tie-Ups
Byline: by Geoff Foster
THE recent [pounds sterling]1bn merger between PartyGaming and Austria's bwin, which created the world's largest online gaming group, was seen as the potential catalyst for a wave of takeover activity in the gambling industry.
Gibraltar-based bookmaker 888 Holdings, which supplies services to Caesars Entertainment Corporation, is reckoned to be the likeliest bid target and it was again yesterday subjected to much rumour and speculation that its days of independence are numbered.
A well-above-average 8m-plus shares changed hands as they touched 36.25p on talk of a 60p a share bid from bigger rival Sportingbet (0.75p off at 46.5p) before closing flat at 36p. There was also some late gossip that 888's management is also considering taking the company private.
Betting shop giant Ladbrokes (1.3p easier at 148.45p) in April walked away from a [pounds sterling]200m-plus bid for 888, the second time in four years that a deal had collapsed. 888's controlling Israeli Shaked and Ben-Yitzhak families apparently could not agree on a price. During the abortive talks, 888's chief executive Gigi Levy stepped down to 'pursue other interests', a development which many said left 888 even more vulnerable to predatory interest.
Sportingbet is on the acquisition trail. Following the termination of its talks with Unibet, the Swedish operator, it confirmed it was interested in acquiring Australian betting operator Centrebet. Swallowing Centrebet would give it 33pc of the Australian online betting market. But industry sources suggest getting into bed with 888 would be a lot more exciting.
Down 63 points at one stage following overnight weakness in Asian markets and the shock arrest of International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Footsie rallied strongly to finish only 2.18 points lower at 5,923.69. Wall Street helped by trading 20 points up at the outset.
Firmer metal prices helped Antofagasta advance 43p to 1184p and BHP Billiton 52p to 2391.75p. Kazakhmys rose 29p to 1241.5p after announcing its intention to seek a secondary listing for its shares on the Hong Kong stock exchange by the end of June.
Reports of a pending cautious circular left temporary power supplier Aggreko 61p off at 1750.5p. Continuing concern about the downturn in the advertising market dragged Britain's Got Talent broadcaster ITV 1. …