Shareholders of both Sportingbet PLC and GVC Holdings have approved the joint bid by GVC and UK bookie William Hill to acquire Sportingbet for cash and shares worth £492.5m. At Thursday’s General Meeting, Sportingbet chairman Peter Dicks announced the results of a vote at the company’s Court Meeting, in which 253 shareholders representing 86.71% of the company stock had voted ‘aye,’ while 51 voters representing just 13.29% had voted against the scheme. The subsequent vote at the General Meeting returned similar numbers: 87.2% in favor, 12.8% opposed. A 75% favorable benchmark was required to approve the deal, which is now expected to be formally blessed on or around March 19.
GVC shareholders also voted to approve the scheme at an extraordinary general meeting held on Thursday. Under the terms of the acquisition, William Hill gets Sportingbet’s lucrative Australian division as well as its Spanish-facing Miapuesta operation, while GVC will assume control of Sportingbet’s operations in grey markets. Last week, Australia’s Northern Territory Racing Commission approved Hills’ takeover of Sportingbet Australia, which holds a Northern Territory-issued license. But Playtech, the minority partner in the William Hill Online joint venture, has threatened to muck up the deal unless Hills’ new acquisition is reflected in the price Hills must pay to buy out its problematic partner.
In announcing the results of Thursday’s vote, Dicks reflected nostalgically on Sportingbet’s history, which he said had been “a great ride.” That ride included Dicks being briefly thrown into jail by US authorities in 2006, just prior to passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). That led to Sportingbet’s infamous fire-sale of its US-facing Sportsbook.com operation to a shell company run by Sportingbet’s undisclosed majority shareholders for $10 and the assumption of debt.
Dicks also defended the £10m in golden handshakes he, CEO Andrew McIver, finance director Jim Wilkinson and other Sportingbet board members are set to receive as a result of the buyout. Dicks said the paydays were promised long ago in order to convince top execs to stick with the ship, which was listing badly after the loss of its US-facing operation, which had generated over two-thirds of Sportingbet’s overall business. Some of the payouts – which include £2m for McIver, £1.2m for Wilkinson and £500k for Dicks – are double the maximum recommended under the UK corporate governance code.