PartyGaming surges after biggest UK float in 5 yrs - Sunday 12th of June 2005

 Shares in online casino group PartyGaming surged on Monday after it completed the biggest London flotation in five years, taking its market value to about 5 billion pounds.

The over-subscribed offer values PartyGaming higher than many household names such as British Airways and chemicals group ICI, and is the country's biggest flotation since Dimension Data floated for 6 billion pounds in July 2000, according to the stock exchange.

PartyGaming priced its initial public offering at 116 pence per share, giving a market value of 4.6 billion pounds and guaranteeing a place in the FTSE-100 index of blue-chip companies. The stock traded as high as 129p in early dealings and by 0910 GMT was up 6 percent at 123p.

Existing shareholders sold a 20.6 percent stake in the company in the offering.

Major beneficiaries include Anurag Dikshit, the group's 34-year-old founder and operations director, who reduced his stake from around 40 percent to 32 percent.

Chief Executive Richard Segal told Reuters the group would target Europe and Australia as its main areas for growth, with Asia a "medium-plus-term" target.

RED HOT POKER

"The reason why we're poker focused is that the group has had extraordinary success there ... as a result of that our other products, casino and bingo, have been to a degree neglected," he said in a telephone interview.

"We will now be driving those business hard going forward, and at the same time we have got plans to introduce new products starting next year," added Segal, himself a keen poker player.

The pricing was just below the midpoint of PartyGaming's indicative range of 111 pence to 127 pence, and according to Segal the offer was more than three-times covered.

PartyGaming, formed in 1997, runs three main brands -- PartyPoker, StarluckCasino and PartyBingo -- and now has more than half the global online poker market. ker has become a big money-spinner for Internet gambling companies, which estimate the world Internet gambling market between $7 billion and $12 billion per year and with 20 percent annual growth.

The Gibraltar-licensed group has suffered a bumpy ride to market, dogged by fears that it could lose its main market as the United States seeks to crack down on Internet gambling.

PartyGaming's prospectus warned its directors risk jail if they travel to the United States, but industry analysts said the threat of legal action from the Justice Department was minimal.

"We had a marketing director there a couple of weeks ago, and it is not going to restrict my travel to the U.S.," said Segal.

Analyst Greg Feehely at Altium Securities said there was minimal risk that online gambling would be banned.

"We've seen some anti-measure introduced every year for the past six years, not one of which has been a success," he said.

The offer consists of 781.6 million existing PartyGaming ordinary shares, prior to the exercise of an over-allotment option of up to 115.3 million shares.

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