UPDATE: William Hill and Amaya released a joint statement late on Friday confirming that they are “in discussions regarding a potential all share merger of equals.” The potential merger would be classified as a reverse takeover under the UK Financial Conduct Authority’s listing rules. The statement emphasized that talks are ongoing and there’s no certainty that a deal will be reached.
On Friday, Reuters reported that Hills and GVC had expressed ‘strong interest’ in acquiring Amaya, the parent company of online poker giant PokerStars. Reuters said some private equity firms were also making serious efforts to add Amaya to their respective holdings.
Meanwhile, ex-CEO Baazov has reportedly abandoned his efforts to acquire Amaya and take the company private. Reuters’ sources claimed that the rival bids were higher than Baazov’s offer of C$21 per share. Amaya’s shares rose over 9% to an 11-month high of C$23.41 following the report before trading was halted.
Baazov’s offer was non-binding and he was said to be delaying a formal bid until he resolved the insider trading criminal charges filed against him by Quebec’s securities regulator. Baazov resigned as Amaya’s CEO in August but remains a major shareholder in the compay.
Neither Hills nor GVC was commenting on the rumors, while Amaya spokesman Eric Hollreiser said the company hadn’t made any determination as to whether “a transaction of any kind is in the best interests of the company” at present.
The Reuters report came the day after Pocket Fives co-founder Adam Small tweeted a popular rumor that floated around the recent Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, namely, that PokerStars’ former owners Isai and Mark Scheinberg were preparing their own bid to acquire Amaya and take the company private.
Small also claimed that part of the Scheinbergs’ rumored strategy was to withdraw PokerStars from its current toehold in the US regulated online gambling market. Stars has obtained a license in New Jersey but the regulatory process has slowed to a crawl and Stars appears headed for a minimum five-year ‘time out’ if and when California gets around to launching its intrastate market.
There’s also the small matter that Isai Scheinberg remains under criminal indictment from the April 15, 2011 Black Friday action by the US Department of Justice, meaning Stars’ US presence would be untenable until those charges are resolved.
If the Scheinbergs were to make a serious play for Amaya, they would likely be buying it back at a significant discount from the $4.9b they received via the 2014 sale of the Rational Group to Amaya. Amaya’s market cap is currently sitting around C$3.1b (US $2.34b).