At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1886, two entrepreneurs started taking commission on English horse races and founded Ladbrokes. They were followed in 1934 by bookmaker William Hill.
Between them they’ve saturated Britain’s high streets with thousands of betting parlors over the past century, but those shops are now trading hands in a gambling spree driven by the U.S.’s 2018 legalization of sports wagering, and an explosion in online betting.
On Tuesday Ladbrokes owner Entain Plc said it had received a cash-and-stock offer worth $22.4 billion from digital Boston-based operator DraftKings Inc., founded in 2012. The takeover attempt came two weeks after online bookie 888 Holdings Plc swooped for the non-U.S. footprint of William Hill, including its shops, from Las Vegas casino operator Caesars Entertainment Inc., which bought the British brand in April.
Isle of Man-based Entain is a digital betting giant, and the U.K. retail market is flat, with its addictive machines increasingly regulated. But newer operators still covet big, brick-and-mortar footprints as sources of steady profit and a way to market to new punters.
Entain’s U.K. shops, which also use the brand Coral, generated 136 million pounds ($186 million) in profit before the pandemic, according to its 2019 annual report.
“That’s obviously invaluable cash flow that can then be invested in online operations,” Berenberg analyst Jack Cummings said by phone. “On top of that, especially in somewhere like the U.K., you get the merits of having your branding on the street and also a channel for acquiring customers and turning them into omni-channel customers.”
“This sector’s consolidating before our eyes,” said Goodbody analyst Gavin Kelleher. More deals are likely, he added.
U.K. retail challenger Betfred Group is an unknown quantity in future deal talks, he said. Private equity houses such as Apollo Global Management Inc. and CVC Capital Partners have also waded into the lucrative sector.
Still, buyout firms are unlikely to match the rich prices currently being offered by strategic players, Kelleher said.
Entain, which was called GVC until last year, was built through an aggressive string of acquisitions spearheaded by former Chief Executive Officer Kenny Alexander in the 2010s, which culminated in the takeover of Ladbrokes Coral in 2018.