London (CNN Business)Caesars Entertainment is in talks to buy William Hill in a deal that would value the British bookmaker at £2.9 billion ($3.7 billion) and underscore the size of the opportunity in online gaming and sports betting in the United States.
In a joint statement on Monday, the companies said that the casino operator could offer £2.72 ($3.45) per William Hill (WIMHY) share, an 81% premium to the stock’s average price over the three months to September 24. The deal would give Caesars (CZR) control of their US joint venture. William Hill says it has a 32% share of revenue in the Nevada sports betting market, and it is rapidly expanding into other states.
“The opportunity to combine our land based-casinos, sports betting and online gaming in the US is a truly exciting prospect,” Caesars CEO Tom Reeg said in the statement. “William Hill’s sports betting expertise will complement Caesars’ current offering, enabling the combined group to better serve our customers in the fast growing US sports betting and online market.”
Sports betting was already booming in the United States before the pandemic hit, after the US Supreme Court in 2018 cleared the way for it to be legalized in states outside Nevada. While lockdowns severely disrupted large sports events, the months long shutdown of casinos helped boost demand for online gambling, buoying stocks such as DraftKings and Flutter Entertainment (PDYPF). Las Vegas casinos reopened in June.
The American Gaming Association expects nearly 35 million people, or 13% of American adults, to bet on the NFL this season.
“Caesars believes that the sports betting and online gaming sector represents one of the largest areas of growth in the US gaming industry,” the company said in the statement, citing analyst estimates valuing the market at up to $35 billion.
Shares in London-listed William Hill surged 41% on Friday to £3.10 ($3.94) per share, after the company said it had received offers from both Caesars and private equity firm, Apollo, suggesting that a bidding war could emerge.
But the stock pulled back on Monday, tumbling 11% after William Hill said it was “minded” to recommend the Caesars offer to shareholders. Caesars said it would be entitled to terminate the US joint venture agreement if Apollo bought the company.
“The deal, if it’s approved, isn’t expected to close until the second half of 2021, at a time when the sporting calendar on both sides of the Atlantic is expected to be back in full swing,” senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Susannah Streeter said in a note to clients.
— Paul La Monica contributed reporting.
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