William Hill could be the latest arrival to the the betting industry's merger party, after confirming it was in talks with Canadian online gambling group Amaya.
The two are hashing out a prospective all-share merger, which would create a £5bn betting giant. Negotiations are at an early stage but it is understood that a deal could be announced in the next couple of weeks.
The merger would deliver significant cost synergies – likely higher than Ladbrokes and Gala Coral’s £65m a year.
William Hill has been reviewing its strategic options, with a view to diversifying internationally and making a stronger move into digital. While it remains the UK's largest retail bookmaker on number of shops, it has found it difficult to adapt amid fierce competition from online rivals. Chief executive James Henderson resigned in July after failing to turn around its e-gambling operations.
Amaya – the owner of gaming site PokerStars – has a registered database of 100 million people. It is understood William Hill's interim CEO Philip Bowcock views the tie-up as a complementary fit, seeing the opportunity to combine William Hill’s sports book with Amaya’s poker customers. The Canadian company is the biggest online poker operator in the world and holds more than 70 per cent of the market.
The M&A frenzy in the sector seems to be continuing unabated, with Ladbrokes and Gala Coral’s £2.3bn tie-up approved in July by the Competition and Markets Authority and Paddy Power and Betfair agreeing a bumper £6bn merger last year. Online operator GVC bought rival Bwin.party for £1.1bn last year.
During the summer, William Hill rejected a three-way merger offer from Rank Group and 888 Holdings. An original offer valued Britain’s biggest high-street bookmaker at £3.6bn, though Rank and 888 later topped up a stock element of the deal for William Hill shareholders.