PartyGaming was once again the subject of intense speculation today after it emerged the company had tapped the bond markets for up to $500 Million to finance possible sports betting acquisitions.
It is thought Party is looking towards a European-focused but ex-UK sports betting operation in order to diversify its interests away from it mainly US-focused poker and casino interests. Two names heavily tipped as possible takeover targets Gamebookers and Unibet.
The privately-owned Gamebookers was acquired by Isle of Man-based Trident in July 2005 for $43 Million (£24 Million). It has a strong presence across Europe, especially eastern and southern Europe and has approximately 150,000 registered customers. It is very active in promoting and marketing itself in those territories and has signed numerous sponsorship deals with sports and football clubs. In October 2005, Gamebookers revealed it was looking at a stock market flotation and valued itself at between £75 Million and £100 Million.
And Swedish-listed betting and Online Gambling operator Unibet. listed on the Stockholm Stock Exchange and is one of the leading online bookmakers in Scandinavia. Its share price at the time of writing had gone up SEK5 to SEK195, valuing the company at just over SEK5bn ($678 Million).
Wayne Brown, analyst at Altium Capital, said: “Party could go into the UK market, but it probably wants something more continental Europe-focused. It wouldn´t want to be going up against the strong UK brands.”
Simon Holliday from Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, said he was not surprised about the news of a possible acquisition. “Both Party and 888 have been on the lookout for a sports betting acquisition. I think they each wanted to buy one before the start of the World Cup.”
It has a strong historical presence in southern Europe and in French-speaking European countries through its acquisition of MrBookmaker in August 2005 for £75 Million. As of end of Q1 2006, it had just over one million registered customers and provides online poker through the Microgaming and B2B Poker networks. The company was founded by Anders Strom in 1997, he is still the main shareholder with a 25% stake.
Unibet´s Q1 2006 results to end of March revealed gross revenues of £17.4 Million, up from £6.9 Million on the same period 2005, profit before tax was £8 Million, up from £3.6 Million on Q1 2005 and profits after tax were £5.6 Million, up from £2.5 Million on 2005.
It is believed Strom and Unibet´s management may not necessarily be looking to sell, but as Unibet has been performing well, it could generate a very attractive price from potential bidders and persuade the shareholders to sell up.
Both PartyGaming and Unibet refused to comment. Gamebookers chief executive John O´Malia was also unavailable for comment.