An ambitious £3.4bn bid for William Hill has collapsed after the bookmaker refused to open talks with suitors Rank Group and 888 over what would have been a highly-complex, three-way deal.
Rank, the owner of Grosvenor casino and Mecca bingo halls, and online gambling company 888 made two offers for the bookie, of 394p-a-share and 364p, but both were dismissed by William Hill as too low and “highly opportunistic”. In the light of William Hill’s refusal to engage, the pair have dropped their approach, which had been dogged all along by stock market scepticism the deal was too complicated to pull-off and required too much debt.
A Takeover Panel deadline requiring the bidders to make a formal offer or walk away was due to expire on Sunday.
“We strongly believe that the transaction would have created significant value for all three sets of shareholders,” said Henry Birch, the boss of Rank. Itai Freiberger, 888’s chief executive, added that he was “disappointed” William Hill “did not share our vision”.
The mooted deal would have involved Rank merging with 888 to buy the bookie. Mr Birch would not comment on whether a deal between the two bidders was still on the cards, although he did say that “we’ve enjoyed working with 888”.
William Hill had publicly clashed with the bidders and disputed the value of the offers they had submitted. Gareth Davis, the bookie’s chief executive, said today that it would focus on its stand-alone turnaround strategy, adding that Rank and 888’s offer “fell down on value, risk, strategy and leverage”.
In a fillip to investors, he also said the company had enjoyed a “good start” to the second-half of the year and that annual operating profits were now expected to be at the top end of the £260m to £280m range.
However, William Hill remains isolated. Rivals Ladbrokes and Corals are merging and Paddy Power and Betfair have combined to create a gambling giant.
There has been speculation that CVC, the private equity giant that used to own William Hill and now owns Sky Bet, could make a bid for the bookie. But Berenberg analysts said today that they doubted William Hill would draw another suitor, arguing that “a private equity fund would need to re-leverage” the company “very substantially”.
William Hill shares, which had faded in recent days amid speculation a deal would fail, fell a further 4.7p to 303.1p. 888 rose 4.75p to 205p and Rank slid 2.3p to 221.6p.