Chinese investors threat to £2bn Playtech takeover

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Chinese investors threat to £2bn Playtech takeover: Regulator asked to step in as tycoons buy shares in the gambling software specialist


The takeover of Playtech could be derailed by Asian investors snapping up shares in the firm.

The gambling software specialist backed a 680p-a-share offer from Australian gaming group Aristocrat in October, valuing it at £2.1billion.

The deal was already under threat from rival suitor Eddie Jordan, the former Formula One motor racing boss understood to be mulling an offer worth around 750p a share, or £2.3billion.

Target: Gambling software specialist Playtech backed a 680p a share offer from Australian gaming group Aristocrat in October valuing it at £2.1bn

Target: Gambling software specialist Playtech backed a 680p a share offer from Australian gaming group Aristocrat in October valuing it at £2.1bn

But attention is now turning to a group of investors from China and Hong Kong who have amassed stakes in Playtech, some of whom have paid more than the 680p offered by Aristocrat.

It includes billionaire heiress Karen Lo, Birmingham City Football Club owner Paul Suen and professional poker player Stanley Choi – as well as gaming tycoon Tang Hao and Hong Kong investment firm TTB Partners.

Holding: Billionaire heiress Karen Lo has been buying Playtech shares at around 750p each through her firm Future Capital Group

Holding: Billionaire heiress Karen Lo has been buying Playtech shares at around 750p each through her firm Future Capital Group

There is speculation they are part of a group that may control over 20 per cent of shares, potentially enough to block the takeover offer from Aristocrat, as over 75 per cent of investors need to vote in favour of the bid. 

Sources said they were ‘mystified’ by the intentions of the Asian investors. 

It has been suggested they could be eyeing up Playtech’s unregulated gambling business in the region.

Playtech and Aristocrat have written to the Takeover Panel and asked them to establish if these shareholders are acting together, according to Sky News. 

If the panel says they are, the investors will fall under takeover rules stipulating they will have to make a full-blown offer for Playtech if their collective stake passes 30 per cent.

Lo, heiress to the Vitasoy Hong Kong soy milk empire, has been buying shares at around 750p via her firm Future Capital Group. 

The 50-year-old, who is married to businessman Eugene Chuang and has a £75million mansion in Los Angeles, now has a 4.9 per cent stake.

In the race: Rival suitor Eddie Jordan (pictured), the former Formula One boss, is understood to be mulling an offer for Playtech worth around 750p a share or £2.3bn

In the race: Rival suitor Eddie Jordan (pictured), the former Formula One boss, is understood to be mulling an offer for Playtech worth around 750p a share or £2.3bn

Suen, a Chinese businessman, has expanded his stake to just over 4.6 per cent. Choi, a businessman and professional poker player, is chairman of hotel and casino property investor International Entertainment Corp. 

He has a 3 per cent stake in Playtech, and is better known in the UK for his controversial tenure at Wigan Athletic FC, which he owned for 20 months and sold shortly before it fell into administration last year.

Concerns over a potential blocking of the deal followed a decision by Gopher Investments, a firm linked to TTB, to pull out of a possible counter-bid for Playtech last month. 

Gopher made an approach for the whole company after it triumphed in a battle to buy Playtech’s financial trading arm, Finalto, for £189million in September.

Risk taker: Professional poker player Stanley Choi is among the group of investors from China and Hong Kong who have amassed stakes in Playtech

Risk taker: Professional poker player Stanley Choi is among the group of investors from China and Hong Kong who have amassed stakes in Playtech

Meanwhile, Eddie Jordan and his firm JKO Play are thought to be putting together a potential 750p per share offer that it is hoped will be recommended by Playtech’s board.

Aristocrat’s offer stipulates that any commitments to vote for its bid will lapse if a rival proposal is at least 10 per cent higher. 

This means any counter-offer will need to be at least 748p. JKO has until January 5 to make a formal offer.

Playtech is considered by some to be a hidden gem in the UK’s gambling sector, with giants including William Hill and Bet 365 among its customer base.

Gambling firm at internet revolution 

Founded in Estonia in 1999 by Israeli businessman Teddy Sagi, Playtech rose to prominence in the early 2000s as the expansion of the internet sparked a boom in online casinos.

Its software allowed gambling operators access to detailed information on customers, enabling them to cross-promote other games and products.

Playtech expanded into the online bingo and poker markets, listing on AIM in 2006, with a market cap of around £550million. 

Its shares fell 40 per cent in a day that year when legislators severely curtailed online gambling in the US.

But it expanded aggressively as the sector licked its wounds, buying smaller rivals and growing its business to include online sports betting. It was promoted to the FTSE 250 in 2012.

The group also attempted a swoop on stock trading platform Plus 500 in 2015, although the deal eventually fell through.

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