888 agrees to buy William Hill European business

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Horse racingImage source, PA Media

888 Holdings has agreed to buy William Hill's European business from its US owner in a deal worth £2.2bn.

The online gambling firm said the deal with casino giant Caesars Entertainment would include William Hill's 1,400 UK betting shops.

888 chief executive Itai Panzer said the acquisition would "create one of the world's leading online betting and gaming groups".

The deal is set to create a combined group with more than 12,000 employees.

It will aim for savings of about £100m a year as a result of the purchase.

888 said the acquisition would give it "significantly enhanced exposure to sports betting, the world's largest and fastest growing online segment, with the addition of an iconic sports brand".

It also said William Hill's High Street presence was an important factor behind the move.

Mr Panzer added: "Our strategies are also complementary, being digitally led, customer focused, and committed to player protection and raising industry standards around safer gambling.

"We are also excited about the opportunities that the retail business provides and see significant brand benefits."

William Hill chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: "The William Hill and 888 strategies are highly complementary with an absolute focus on the product and customer experience.

"Scale is increasingly important in our sector and the combination of the businesses will provide a powerful alignment of brands and technology."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The owner of the famed Caesars Palace acquired William Hill in April for £2.9bn

An auction for the non-US side of William Hill's business, which includes online operations across the UK and Europe, was initiated by Caesars Entertainment after it had acquired the gambling giant in April for £2.9bn.

The Caesars Palace casino owner only wanted the firm's US operations and said from the outset that it intended to sell other parts of the business once the deal had gone through, sparking a race to buy.

Tom Reeg, chief executive of Caesars Entertainment, said that he was "delighted" the firm had "found an owner for the William Hill business outside the US which shares the same objectives, approaches and longer-term ambitions of that business".

US private equity firm Apollo was also in the running for the purchase of the European business.

888's takeover is still subject to shareholder approval, and it will also need to be given the go-ahead by the Financial Conduct Authority.

Lord Jon Mendelsohn, chair of 888, said: "We believe the acquisition will create significant value for shareholders, creating a combined business with leading technology, products and brands across sports betting, gaming and poker, supported by top quality management talent from both businesses."

Founded in 1934, the William Hill brand started out when its founder set up a postal and phone-based betting business.

It opened its first betting shops in the UK in the mid-1960s, shortly after their presence on High Streets was made legal.

Questions had been raised about the value of the brand's bricks-and-mortar shops, which were largely closed during the pandemic.

In August last year, the company said it would not be reopening 119 of its betting shops after coronavirus lockdowns, saying it did not expect customers to return in the numbers seen before the pandemic.