BoyleSports, the largest independently owned bookmaker in Ireland, has expressed interest in acquiring some or all betting shops that William Hill currently holds in the United Kingdom. The Irish sportsbook giant doesn’t seem to be too worried about the looming regulatory overhaul in the UK’s gambling market after the ongoing review of the Gambling Act of 2005.
According to a statement by the company spokesman, BoyleSports has been looking to boost its presence across the UK market for the longest time. Now, with William Hill’s looming sale, the Irish bookmaker brand sees this as a much-welcomed opening to realize its footprint expansion goal. The statement reads in part:
“BoyleSports would certainly be interested in acquiring some or all of William Hill stores in the UK, or indeed any other opportunity that makes sense for our business. We have made no secret of our ambition to be one of the leading players in British high society, and we believe that our retail and digital offerings represent best-in-class, safe and enjoyable for the betting public.”
This potential sale of William Hill’s UK-based betting shop business follows its $3.7 billion (£2.9 billion) takeover by US gaming juggernaut Ceasars Entertainment, which was completed earlier this year. The BoyleSports spokesperson added:
“We already have 21 stores in the UK which, together with our 45 stores in Northern Ireland and our recently updated online betting site, give us a considerable base of support in the UK retail and online markets. The sale of William Hill Estate presents us with a rare opportunity to achieve the retail scale we have been aiming for.”
When Caesars Entertainment completed the William Hill buyout, the company stated that it would focus on the USA market and offload all other businesses elsewhere. This divestment process is planned to launch by the end of July 2021 and finalized by the end of May next year. Tom Reeg, Caesars Chief Executive Officer, affirmed that his company’s strength was in focusing on its USA operations by saying:
“One of my pet peeves when I was an investor was companies that didn’t know what they were good at. And I can’t tell you we’re good at running a non-U.S. digital business. I can tell you that there are almost certainly people out there that will do it better than us and see opportunity there. And I can deploy that capital into businesses that I know will drive better returns to shareholders. So, no, we’ve not had a moment’s pause in terms of selling the non-US business.”
Third Run for BoyleSports at UK Business Expansion
BoyleSports has for some time stood by its operating principle of navigating the transformed retail sports betting landscape in the United Kingdom. But then, the bigger piece of the UK market that the company is looking to secure might be a tough nut to crack if we consider how rapidly things are changing in the said sector.
The current 2005 Gambling Act review aside, sportsbook operators in the region are still trying to adjust to the £2 stake limit on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) that took effect in April 2019. Moreover, a significant chunk of the UK’s betting scene has recently transitioned to online betting due to forced Coronavirus lockdowns.
Either way, BoyleSports is pretty confident that this opportunity, despite the unique circumstances, is key to its major expansion in UK’s retail sports betting market. The company has for over a decade been hungry to expand its UK footprint but was beaten twice. First, in 2008, when UK’s state-owned Tote business was up for sale, BoyleSports was edged out by BetFred. Then, eight years later, BetFred outmaneuvered by BetFred once again when Ladbrokes-Coral was shedding its retail betting shops.
In its four-decade history, the largest transaction for BoyleSports was in January 2020 when the company bought out William Hill’s 35 outlets in Northern Ireland (NI) and two more in the Isle Man. This buyout is what catapulted BoyleSports to become Ireland’s biggest sportsbook operator. After this acquisition, Conor Gary, the company’s Commercial Director, disclosed that he would pump $5.6 million (£4 million) to revamp the new stores and upgrade their technology. Further, he pointed out William Hill’s NI business mistake, saying:
“William Hill viewed Northern Ireland as non-core and, as a result of that, the shops probably didn’t get the love and attention they warranted. They have 1,600 retail outlets in the UK so 33 in Northern Ireland wasn’t playing to their agenda. The shops have suffered over the last number of years from lack of investment, direction, and attention. Therein lies the opportunity that we see.”
Stiff Competition For BoyleSports in the Run for William Hill’s UK Shops
From what industry analysts are saying, however, all the 1,400 William Hill outlets in the UK can’t go to a single buyer. Right now, the UK betting shops are estimated to cost up to a whopping $2.1 billion (£1.5 billion), but there’s a chance that the price tag could reduce significantly depending on how the 2005 Gambling Act Review unfolds.
Moreover, BoyleSports is up against some stiff competition for William Hill’s retail assets. A report by the Daily Telegraph indicates that the Shaked family – the founding shareholders of 888 Holdings will likely bid on William Hill’s UK business and its 200 outlets in Europe. Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm that lost to Caesars Entertainment in the recent sale of William Hill, will also join the potential buyers. In addition, the likes of Betfred's Fred Done, Entain, and Flutter Entertainment are also expected to have a crack at buying William Hills UK and European retail outlets.