On Monday, Ladbrokes CEO Jim Mullen announced that the results of the company’s strategic review of its lagging digital division would remain secret “until further notice.” Given that all hands on deck are currently playing merger thunderdome, there’s no time to wax rhapsodically about online visions.
The proposed merger has a long way to go before it’s a reality – Gala Coral CEO Carl Leaver said the process could take up to 12 months – but the new entity would control over 4k betting shops in the UK, about 45% of the total market and nearly twice that of closest rival William Hill. Gala Coral’s overachieving online operations would also give Lads’ flaccid digital willie a proper stiffie.
On paper, the merger is peanut butter and chocolate. Lads is considered the more dominant retail performer while Gala Coral’s digital division easily trumps Lads’ offering. But who gets to control what will be one of the key stumbling blocks in the months of talks that lie ahead. Whoever emerges triumphant will affect where the majority of the expected redundancies will be made.
Whatever synergies the parties expect to derive via the merger, it won’t come via any pruning of the related brands. In an email to staff viewed by eGaming Review, Gala Coral digital boss Andy Hornby said “both brands [Coral and Ladbrokes] will continue on the high street and all three brands [Coral, Gala and Ladbrokes] will continue online as part of the combined Group.”
Given the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the talks, Mullen will continue to implement his overhaul of Ladbrokes digital offering. The Telegraph reported that part of Lads’ new strategy is to beef up the WiFi in its betting shops and to deploy sports-mad employees to engage with punters and sign them up for online accounts there and then.
Of course, the last great mega-merger of UK-listed operators was Bwin.party, and that went just swell. Last August, CEO Norbert Teufelberger admitted that the combined Bwin and PartyGaming businesses wasted an enormous amount of time “integrating the companies, trying to merge cultures, which was very, very difficult to achieve.” And that was well before the recent introduction of significant online and land-based gaming tax increases in the key UK market that are shrinking margins across the board. Careful what you wish for…