Ladbrokes and Gala Coral agree merger

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Bookmakers Ladbrokes and Gala Coral have agreed to merge, creating a £2.3bn business which will be Britain’s largest high street betting group and better equipped to compete in the growing online market.

The latest deal in the gambling sector comes only a week after online betting company 888 agreed a £900m takeover of rival Bwin.party. Betting companies are responding to higher tax bills in Britain and tighter regulation of the industry.

Ladbrokes, which has struggled to keep pace with larger rival William Hill’s online expansion, said it would issue new ordinary shares to existing Gala Coral shareholders representing 48.25 per cent of the enlarged company. Existing Ladbrokes investors will own 51.75 per cent on the same basis.

Gala Coral Group is owned by a group of private equity companies including Apollo, Anchorage and Cerberus.

To help fund the deal, which came after talks were announced last month, Ladbrokes is placing 93 million new shares, representing 10 per cent of the company.

Ladbrokes chief executive Jim Mullen will become boss of the merged company, which will be named Ladbrokes Coral and have combined revenues of £2.1bn. Gala Coral CEO Carl Leaver will be executive deputy chairman.

The new group will have around 4,000 betting shops, almost half the UK market, although regulators are expected to insist some shops are sold off in areas where they overlap.

A merged entity will also have more firepower to compete online, an area where demand is increasing rapidly on the back of mobile and tablet apps, but where Ladbrokes has fared poorly.

The two firms said they expected cost synergies of at least £65m a year.

As part of the merger agreement Ladbrokes said it would buy out partner Playtech from a digital marketing services deal with cash and shares in the new group.

Playtech has also agreed to take up 22.9 percent of Ladbrokes’ equity placing. It will have less than a 5 per cent stake in the new company.

In a flurry of announcements Ladbrokes also said full-year operating profit will be about £20m lower than expected and that it had decided to cut its full-year dividend of 8.9 pence per share to 3p, to fund digital marketing investments.