Hill gets deadline extended for Sportingbet takeover bid

THE UK’s biggest bookmaker William Hill has been given a three-week extension to submit a formal bid for online gaming company Sportingbet following its £530m takeover approach.

The Takeover Panel has extended the deadline for an offer until December 4 to allow discussions to continue between Sportingbet, William Hill and joint bidder GVC Holdings.

The original deadline was due to expire yesterday, but an extension was expected given the complexity of the three-party talks.

William Hill and smaller partner GVC Holdings won provisional backing from the Sportingbet board last month for a cash and share approach valuing Sportingbet at 61.1p per share.

The main prize for William Hill is Sportingbet’s operations in Australia.

William Hill, which employs 3,000 staff in Yorkshire including 1,100 in Leeds, makes most of its revenues in Britain but is expanding overseas and bought three businesses in the US state of Nevada earlier this year.

Australia is the mainstay of Paradise Poker firm Sportingbet’s business.

The company is a market leader in Australian telephone and online gaming, which accounted for almost 70 per cent of company revenues last year.

William Hill is also interested in taking on Sportingbet’s business in Spain, a country with a keen interest in sport and where regulations were clarified earlier this year.

The complication for William Hill is to try to separate out the Spanish business from operations in other parts of Europe where the regulations are less clear-cut.

Partner GVC is planning to acquire those operations in “grey markets” where regulatory risks are higher.

William Hill said the Olympics and Paralympics meant there were fewer punters at its betting shops in August.

But the Olympic downturn was offset by a good performance from football results, including a strong Euro 2012 in July, and a 42 per cent surge in online earnings in the group’s third quarter.

William Hill reported a 26 per cent rise in operating profits in the quarter to September 25.

Its 2,379-strong retail arm saw operating profits rise eight per cent despite a poor horse racing season due to the record early summer rainfall and particularly quiet August during the Olympics.

The group said amounts wagered fell six per cent, but this was offset by a higher win margin.

Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, said: “The Olympics and Paralympics captured the public’s attention, but appear to have reduced customer visits in retail.”

William Hill has announced a raft of changes at its internet arm as it considers taking full control of its fast growing online business.

It said online operating profits leapt to £34.8m in the third quarter.