Bookmaker William Hill target of Apollo, Caesars cash bids


UK bookmaker William Hill is the target of not one but two possible takeover bids as the industry’s frantic consolidation push continues unabated.

Early Friday, Bloomberg reported that the private equity group Apollo Global Management had approached William Hill about a potential deal. Shortly thereafter, word spread that casino operator Caesars Entertainment was also kicking Hills’ tires. The speculation caused a surge in Hills’ share price, which closed Friday’s trading up a staggering 43.5% from Thursday.

Hills eventually issued a statement confirming that it had received “separate cash proposals” from Apollo Management International and Caesars. Hills said discussions with both parties were ongoing and there was no guarantee that all this smoke would eventually turn into a rip-roaring, four-alarm gambling consolidation fire.

Under UK corporate takeover rules, Apollo and Caesars have until October 23 to either publicly declare their firm intentions to make an offer or call Hills a worthless slag not worthy of their chat-up efforts.  

Apollo’s initial offer to buy Hills apparently came on August 27, while rumors of a possible Caesars-Hills online gambling/sports betting joint venture surfaced earlier this month. Hills is already Caesars’ designated US-facing sports betting partner due to Hills’ previous deal with Eldorado Resorts, which acquired Caesars operations this year.

The competition between Apollo and Caesars is ironic, as Apollo (along with TPG Capital) used to own Caesars following the disastrous takeover of Harrah’s Entertainment. The hedge funds took the company private and sandbagged it with debt right before the 2008 global economic meltdown, a debacle that ended a decade later with Caesars’ extremely messy bankruptcy and restructuring.

Caesars and Hills have been down this road before, having engaged in failed merger talks a little over a year ago. Hills had previously flirted with the UK consolidation frenzy by trying to merge with the parent company of PokerStars a few years back but nothing came of it.

Hills has since sat on the M&A sidelines as PokerStars’ parent acquired UK rival Sky Betting & Gaming and that enlarged group was subsequently absorbed into Flutter Entertainment. Bookmakers Ladbrokes and Gala Coral teamed up, only to be swallowed by GVC Holdings, which had already claimed the former assets as its own.

Naturally, speculation is rampant as to what would follow a Hills takeover, with sharp money on a more or less immediate spin-off of Hills’ US division – which just launched its first retail sportsbook in Michigan this week – to take advantage of the devoid-from-reality US stock market approach to sports betting operators.