William Hill bets on Stanley - Tuesday 12th of April 2005

WILLIAM HILL is in talks to buy the betting-shop division of gaming group Stanley Leisure for £500m in a deal that would see it leapfrog Ladbrokes to become Britain’s biggest bookmaker.

William Hill, led by chief executive David Harding, has made an approach to Stanley, headed by Bob Wiper, and the two have opened negotiations to try to agree a deal.

 

Stanley had not been courting buyers for the business, which has more than 600 betting shops, but has consistently said it would consider an offer if one was made.

News of the proposed sale is likely to spark a rash of interest from other parties. Analysts said those who might want to open talks include Coral, Britain’s third-biggest bookie, and the Tote, the state-owned pool betting operator.

Stanley has been the subject of speculation about its future strategy, particularly as Genting, a Malaysian conglomerate with strong gaming interests, has built up a 17% stake. If Stanley sells its betting division, it will be left with just its casino arm. This owns some of London’s leading gaming halls, including Crockford’s, and several regional casinos.

Stanley shares jumped last week on speculation that Genting would try to merge the company with London Clubs International, in which it holds a 22% stake. Stanley shares closed on Friday at 472p, valuing the business at £606m.

Stanley and William Hill declined to comment. But at his company’s financial results last month, Harding said he was interested in acquiring betting shops and could add up to 600 sites without fear of upsetting competition regulators. William Hill announced plans to return more than £450m to shareholders, suggesting a lack of major deals on the horizon. But with its strong balance sheet it would have no problem funding a deal with Stanley.

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