William Hill seeks digital growth through MRG bid

William Hill is looking to elevate its digital footprint with a cash offer to acquire growing online gaming group MRG for a sum equivalent to €271 million.

The William Hill offer is SEK69 in cash per share, for a total of SEK2,819 million (€270.96 million). The bookmaker, which has been regularly linked to the potential purchase of a host of gaming operators, currently holds no shares in MRG.

The acceptance period for the offer – which is recommended to the shareholders by the MRG board – is expected to commence on or around 10 December and close around 11 January 2019. If approved, settlement is expected to begin around 17 January.

In a statement, William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock commented: “This proposed acquisition accelerates the diversification of William Hill – immediately making us a more digital and more international business.

“MRG will provide William Hill with an international hub in Malta with market entry expertise and strong growth momentum in a number of European countries. William Hill will move from a single brand to a suite of brands that can maximise growth opportunities moving forward in new and existing markets.”

The rationale behind the move is to create a strongly positioned combined business with an expanded European footprint in faster growing online betting and gaming markets, further supported by the existing William Hill Online and retail businesses in the UK and the US.

MRG’s online-only business will increase the group’s share of revenue and profits from online as well as from outside the UK, and in the process reduce William Hill’s exposure in the UK.

Ulrik Bengtsson, William Hill’s Chief Digital Officer, will be tasked with heading the integration of MRG within the wider group. Bengtsson has a strong track record in Nordic online gaming businesses thanks to his time leading operator Betsson.

In the statement, William Hill outlined it would undertake “a careful review of the capabilities and needs of the new combined operations, the optimal structure for future success will be determined”.

It adds: “There are currently, before completion of the offer, no decisions on any material changes to MRG’s employees and management or to the existing organisation and operations, including the terms of employment and locations of the business.” Clearly this is subject to review once (and if) the transaction goes through.

William Hill has retained Citigroup Global Markets as exclusive financial advisor and corporate broker and Vinge as legal advisor.

The full-cash offer remains subject to the acceptance of the shareholders and all relevant regulatory approvals.

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