Flutter Entertainment and The Stars Group gain competition watchdog approval

By Martin Green05 April 2020
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The UK Competition and Markets Authority has given its approval to Flutter Entertainment’s multibillion-pound takeover of The Stars Group. London listed Flutter owns Paddy Power, Betfair and FanDuel. In October, it announced a merger with Canadian firm The Stars Group, which owns Poker Stars, Bet Stars, Sky Bet and FOX Bet. It will become a North American powerhouse by bringing FanDuel and FOX Bet together, but the UK market was the big stumbling block. Paddy Power, Betfair and Sky Bet are among the leading players in the market, leading to competition concerns. Gaining CMA approval means the deal is now all but certain to go ahead. “This announcement from the CMA marks a further important milestone in the process towards completion of our proposed combination with The Stars Group,” said Flutter chief executive Peter Jackson. “We continue to work with the remaining international regulatory authorities to obtain the last of the outstanding approvals. Separately, last week we published the necessary documentation ahead of the shareholder votes in April and we continue to make good progress in our post-completion planning.”

Bookmakers donated all profits from Saturday’s virtual Grand National to the NHS as its staff risk their lives to treat COVID-19 patients. The Grand National is the world’s most popular horse race and it typically results in a huge payday for bookies. However, it had to be cancelled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, so a virtual race was staged in its stead. Potters Corner, an 18/1 shot, won the virtual event, while favourite Tiger Roll could only finish fourth. Betting and Gaming Council members including Bet365, William Hill, Flutter Entertainment, Sky Bet, Ladbrokes owner GVC, Betfred, Betway, BetVictor, JenningsBet and Inspired Entertainment all gave their profits to the NGS. “Millions of us love a flutter on the Grand National,” said BGC chief executive Michael Dugher. “For many, it’s the only time of the year they place a bet. This year, the big winner will be our NHS.”

William Hill has named Matt Ashley as its new chief financial officer and Stephen Parry as chief operating officer. Adrian Marsh was initially due to take over from Ruth Prior as CFO, but he has now decided to remain in his role at packaging firm DS Smith due to the coronavirus outbreak. Ashley, who works for transport company National Express, will now take over from Prior in May. Parry has been working as integration director at Flutter Entertainment, helping the integration of The Stars Group into the business. “These two key appointments reinforce our focus on building a high calibre team; Matt and Stephen bring significant strengths to the company,” said William Hill’s chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson. “Matt has a wealth of international financial and US experience as well as being an experienced CFO of a FTSE 250 Listed company. Stephen comes with a first-class track record of driving digital change, operational focus and customer experience in senior roles at Vodafone and Flutter.”

Betfred owner Fred Done has snapped up a 3.03% stake in rival William Hill. Some analysts claim it signals his intention to take over Hills’ betting shops, but Done said it simply represented great value. “I’ve bought Hills shares because they are massively undervalued and in my opinion when it comes to the US they are frontrunners,” he said. Betfred recently launched its first retail sportsbooks in the US, but William Hill has been in the market for a long time. It is the market leader in Nevada and it powers lottery monopolies in Delaware and Rhode Island, while operating in most states with legal sports wagering. Its share price has plummeted this year following the reduction in maximum betting stakes at UK betting shops and the coronavirus outbreak.