BoyleSports, Ireland’s largest independent bookmaker, is considering an audacious move to buy some or all of William Hill’s UK retail portfolio. Founded by John Boyle back in 1982, the Dundalk-based company has 2,500 employees. It operates a successful online business together with 340 betting shops, of which 21 are in Great Britain and 45 in Northern Ireland.
BoyleSports Chief Executive Mark Kemp is keen to acquire the 1,400 William Hill shops which are surplus to the requirements of the new American owners, Caesars Entertainment. Caesars completed its £2.9 billion purchase of William Hill at the end of April. As the American gaming giant’s primary target was Hill’s US betting business, all other European assets are surplus to requirements and Caesar’s Chief Executive Tom Reeg aims to find a buyer of the William Hill shops this year, with a view to completing the sale by next May. He says “One of my pet peeves when I was an investor was companies that didn’t know what they were good at and I can’t tell you we’re good at running a non-U.S. digital business. I can tell you that there are almost certainly people out there that will do it better than us and see opportunity there.”
BoyleSports has the market experience and know-how to take on the challenge but the big question is, does the business have access to the enormous loan capital that would be required to finance a deal that is expected to be worth £1.5 billion?
The company is facing competition from other companies keen to snap up Hill’s retail business, some of which already have the deep pockets needed to fund the purchase. Private equity firm Apollo Global Management, which was outbid by Caesars for the entire William Hill empire, is thought to be in the mix and the purchase would allow Apollo to combine the William Hill retail business with Gamenet, an Italian gambling company purchased for $1.15 billion in December.
888 Holdings is also thought to be eying up William Hill. At present, 888 focuses on iGaming and poker; the purchase of William Hill would complement its existing business and allow an opportunity for cross-sales. Intriguingly, rumours are swirling that the Gibraltar-based company is itself likely to be subject to a takeover bid shortly!
Other potential suitors include Betfred (which may face intervention by regulatory authorities, as the company’s existing retail arm is already extensive), and two Swedish companies – Betsson and Kindred Group.
Despite the twin challenges of securing the necessary finance and then seeing off their rivals, BoyleSport remains positive. A spokesperson for the company has confirmed “BoyleSports would certainly be interested in acquiring some or all of William Hill’s UK shops, or indeed any other opportunity that makes sense for our business. We have made no secret of our ambition to be one of the principal operators on the UK high street and believe that our retail and digital offerings represent a best in class, safe, and enjoyable proposition for the betting public. We already have 21 shops in the UK which, along with our 45 shops in Northern Ireland and our recently upgraded online betting site, gives us a sizeable foothold in the UK retail and online markets. The sale of the William Hill estate presents us with a rare opportunity to achieve the retail scale we have been targeting.”