British bookmaker William Hill PLC said it has received takeover proposals from Caesars Entertainment Inc. and Apollo Management International LLP, the latest sign of global interest in the growing U.S. sports-gambling market.
Sports betting in the U.S. was booming before the pandemic, and the monthslong shutdown of casinos for social distancing this year underscored the value of online sports wagering for major gambling operators. In recent months, betting companies have spun off digital arms and made big investments into online gambling, activity that has been accelerated by the impact of the pandemic on retail revenue, according to analysts.
William Hill, a London-listed company that has become a major player in the U.S., said Friday that talks with the two potential suitors were ongoing but cautioned there was no certainty of a deal. It didn’t disclose the terms of the proposals. Caesars and Apollo both declined to comment.
U.S. commercial slot-machine revenue this year through the end of July was $9.24 billion, down nearly 45% compared with the same time last year, while casino revenue from table games fell 46% to $2.6 billion, according to the American Gaming Association, an industry trade group. Meanwhile, sports-betting revenue was up nearly 19% at $394 million, with more states having legalized the industry. Online casino revenue nearly tripled for the period, to $778 million.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports wagering since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling paved the way for states outside Nevada to allow sports betting. Meanwhile, a handful of states have legalized online casino gambling. Analysts expect the roster of states welcoming sports and online gambling to expand in coming years, particularly as state lawmakers look to fill budget gaps caused by the pandemic-induced economic downturn.
William Hill shares rose more than 40% Friday, valuing the company at over £3 billion, equivalent to $3.82 billion. Under U.K. takeover rules, Caesars and Apollo now have until Oct. 23 to either make an offer for William Hill or walk away. Bloomberg earlier reported the talks with Apollo.
William Hill has been hit hard this year by the coronavirus pandemic, prompting it to permanently close more than 100 of its U.K.-based stores, which were already under pressure from increased regulation and the shift to betting online.
However, one big growth area for the company in recent years has been the U.S., where it has sought to tap the burgeoning sports-betting market. William Hill US accounted for 7% of group revenue in the first six months of the year.
The U.S. online casino and sports-betting market is expected to grow to $18 billion in revenue by 2025, with the top three players in market share projected to be Flutter Entertainment PLC at 28%, DraftKings Inc. at 20% and Caesars at 12%, according to a Macquarie Research. Flutter Entertainment has the betting brands FoxBet and FanDuel.
William Hill already has a partnership with Caesars. Earlier this month, the U.K. company said Caesars had signed a deal with ESPN that would see its odds integrated into ESPN’s website and Fantasy app in states where sports betting is legal. The deal followed a similar agreement announced in February between William Hill and ViacomCBS Inc.’s CBS Sports that enabled the gambling company to seek new customers among the media giant’s audience.
“When you put all those pieces together—good brand, good media tie-in, good technology—I think you could end up with double-digit market share,” said Chad Beynon, Macquarie analyst.
DraftKings, a digital-focused gambling company, has a market capitalization of nearly $18 billion after going public earlier this year.
Now, gambling operators are considering how to unlock the value of their own digital operations from the pressures of their retail business and how to make those operations large enough to be competitive, said Chris Grove, an analyst with Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
“The markets are sending a very clear signal right now,” Mr. Grove said. “Bring us an asset that has the opportunity to be a category leader, if not a category winner, in the legal U.S. online betting market, and we’re going to reward you.”