William Hill: Takeover battle looms for UK bookmaker

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A bid battle is looming for UK betting giant William Hill after it received two rival takeover approaches.

The company confirmed it had received proposals from US-based private equity firm Apollo and casino giant Caesars Entertainment.

It said talks were “ongoing” with both suitors and there “can be no certainty” that any formal offer will be made.

News of the takeover interest sent shares in the bookmaker soaring by nearly a third to 289.8p.

William Hill said Apollo and Caesars were required “to announce a firm intention” to make an offer by 17:00 on 23 October under UK takeover rules.

Under the recent lockdowns betting has continued to shift online and away from the High Street, and last month William Hill said that 119 of its betting shops would not re-open.

The company, which has 1,500 UK outlets, said it did not expect customers to return in the numbers seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Its High Street presence had already been receding prior to the coronavirus outbreak. It closed hundreds of shops after the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals was reduced sharply from £100 to £2 last year.

‘Strategic position’

Despite William Hill’s problems in the UK, “an approach for Hills is entirely understandable”, said Russ Mould, an investment director at AJ Bell, as it “has an excellent strategic position in the US market”.

William Hill already has 170 retail sites in 13 different states, Mr Mould pointed out.

Caesars already owns a 20% stake in William Hill’s US operations, which also have exclusive rights to operate sports betting under the Caesars brand.

Private equity firm Apollo has also been looking to buy supermarket chain Asda in recent weeks, and has placed an offer with the chain’s owner, US retail giant Walmart.