Playtech Acquires BGT
Two Rivals, One $152 Million Takeover
While casinos and bookmakers compete for space in the online betting sphere, the same is true of the many software studios that develop the slots, table games, and other distractions that players love. In 2016 one of the most substantial iGaming mergers occurred when leading online casino software developer Playtech acquired its rival Best Gaming Technology (BGT) for €138m. BGT was one of the top suppliers of games for operators in the UK and Spain, including William Hill, Ladbrokes, and Codere. By acquiring BGT, Playtech greatly enhanced its own market access to Spain and Italy. This acquisition was significant enough by itself but also the high point for Playtech in a tumultuous time of software studios engaging in a wave of M&A activity. Other acquisitions around the same time include BetBuddy, a responsible gambling analytics firm, and YoYo Games. Two years later, the firm spent €291m for a 70.6% stake in Snaitech, further improving its Italian access.
Penn National and Barstool Sports
The $163 Million iGaming Merger of Barstool Sports Begins
In early 2020, Penn National Gaming made a splash in the world of iGaming mergers and acquisitions when it purchased Barstool Sports, with the latter being valued at close to half a billion dollars. The initial part of the deal involved a 36% stake, or $163m, with the stake to increase to 50% with a second purchase three years down the line, giving Penn National Gaming the chance to acquire a controlling stake. The journey that Barstool Sports has been on is a real rags to riches deal, from a free giveaway of tips in the subway stations of Greater Boston to a firm now valued at a cool $450m. In just 2016, four years prior, the outfit was bought by the Chernin Group for a sum said to be between $10m and $15m, which shows just how rapidly it has grown in recent times, with its value rising a least thirtyfold in four years to make it one of the biggest gambling company stocks. In the modern era of communications that sees Youtube channels and podcasts competing outright with mainstream news, the undeniable popularity of Barstool's podcasts, particularly sports comedy Pardon My Take, offers significant promise for the future.
Evolution Buys BTG
A Mega $534 Million Merger
The acquisition by live dealer specialist Evolution Gaming of Big Time Gaming is one of the most recent iGaming mergers on our list (but also one of the most significant). The takeover deal was revealed in April 2021, and worth a not inconsiderable €450m (more than half a billion USD). Evolution acquired BTG mostly through cash (circa 70%) with the remainder coming through issued shares. Big Time Gaming is no minnow, and is known in the world of online betting for its creative gameplay mechanics, such as megaways, which offer paylines in excess of 100,000, plus its own extensive range of slots. Following hot on the heels of the NetEnt acquisition, see below, this means Evolution's stable of subsidiaries are more than the sum of its parts with top NetEnt games, such as Gonzo's Quest, being updated to take advantage of the megaways mechanic.
Paddy Power Betfair Acquires FanDuel
Opening up the USA Sports Market in $770 Million Merger
In 2018 an iGaming merger was agreed that spanned the Atlantic, between Paddy Power Betfair (formerly Paddy Power and Betfair who merged in 2016) in Europe and the USA's FanDuel, with the latter becoming a subsidiary of the former. FanDuel was one of the biggest players in the USA's well-developed fantasy sports market, which had grown up partly as a result of sports betting (until recently) being heavily restricted throughout the country. But with that changing, a sports fantasy firm has the perfect player base to give a sports betting endeavor a head start. This was actually the second deal that Paddy Power Betfair made in this regard, having already acquired US fantasy sports site Draft in 2017 for $48m. In the years since, Flutter (as Paddy Power Betfair became) has increased its stake in FanDuel to 95%, cementing its grip on a very useful door into the burgeoning North American betting marketplace.
Evolution Acquires NetEnt
Evolution Makes Key $2.1 Billion iGaming Merger
Late 2020 saw a very significant move in the iGaming sector, when NetEnt (one of the top software studios) was taken over fully by Evolution Gaming (a live dealer game specialist). Evolution Gaming's shareholding in NetEnt rose to 96.8%, with the acquisition requiring, and receiving, the approval of both the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in the UK and the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority. In June 2020 the offer by Evolution Gaming of €1.8bn was accepted by NetEnt (check out the best NetEnt Casinos here). Due to Evolution Gaming's focus on live dealer games, NetEnt's own live games division closed down. The takeover by Evolution Gaming marks a milestone in the firm's history. First established in 2006, its live dealer games are far and away the most popular at leading online casinos, and with NetEnt as a subsidiary Evolution now boasts of an outstanding portfolio of slots and regular (i.e. non-live) table games, making it perhaps the single best provider of a complete array of slots, table games, and live casino games available today.
Ladbrokes and Gala Coral
Ladbrokes and Coral Complete $3.14 Billion UK iGaming Merger
The UK is one of the big beasts in the betting jungle due to its generally relaxed approach towards online and real world betting, and in 2016 the merger between Ladbrokes and Gala Coral created a new powerhouse in the country. Together they became the biggest bookmaker in the UK, valued at £2.3bn, taking it past William Hill. Indeed, the number of betting outlets of the brick and mortar variety was such that the merger required significant numbers of them to be sold for the merger to acquire regulatory approval. This was a necessary step for the venerable Ladbrokes, which was founded back in the 19th century but had not gotten to grips with 21st technology as well as its rivals, whether established names like William Hill or new firms such as Bet365. This was the most recent of Ladbrokes' acquisition, with others including the 2014 takeover of Aussie bookmaker Betstar and the 2013 acquisitions of Betdaq and Gaming Investments.
DraftKings Grows European Presence
DraftKings Grows with $3.3 Billion iGaming Merger
In 2020 SBTech was acquired by DraftKings in a deal which the latter's CEO, Jason Robins, predicted would turn one of DraftKings' biggest costs into a source of profits instead. SBTech was a European sportsbook platform that provided sports betting and iGaming products and services to leading online bookmakers and the like. This iGaming merger was actually a three way deal, also involving acquisition company Diamond Eagle, with DraftKings seeking to make the most of the great potential future markets in the United States and Canada as both countries open up sports betting online. There's good reason for optimism, with DraftKings enjoying a large presence in the recently opened up New Jersey marketplace and keen to reproduce that success elsewhere. The European angle also makes sense as the newness of the US market means there's a lower degree of participation than in Europe, where online betting has been more freely accessible for longer.
The Acquisition of William Hill
Caesars Seizes William Hill for $3.7 Billion
William Hill is a substantial player in both the UK and global betting marketplace, but there's always a bigger fish and in April 2021 the firm was acquired in a £2.9bn iGaming merger with Caesars Entertainment. This led to board resignations from seven directors of William Hill, and marked a great success for Caesars. The proposed acquisition had been subject to both legal challenges and rival bids. The former came from investment management fund HBK Investments, which did serve to slightly delay the deal progressing. Private equity group Apollo Global were attempting to acquire William Hill themselves, but lost out to Caesars. William Hill was no minnow itself, having successfully acquired major online casino Mr. Green in 2019, and operating over 1,400 betting shops in the UK alone. The takeover by Caesars expands the US juggernaut's presence even more into the UK market, as well as broadening its online portfolio.
Gala and Coral
When Gala Acquired Coral in $3.8 Billion Deal
One of the oldest, but most important, iGaming mergers on our list goes back to 2005, when Gala merged with Coral Eurobet to form Gala Coral. Coral Eurobet was a bookmaker and iGaming operator, and was acquired in a deal worth some £2.18bn. Together with Gala, the combined entity became one of Europe's leading betting lights in multiple fields, with Gala providing bingo halls, in addition to the bookmaking and casino games of Coral. At its creation, the customer base exceeded 2.2 million people, and employees numbered more than 17,000. In the UK, the deal made it the third largest bookmaker and the largest bingo operator, with 30 real world casinos (plus, of course, online gaming opportunities as well).
Flutter Acquires the Stars Group
Monstrous $12.2 Billion iGaming Merger
The Stars Group was the largest publicly listed online gaming company as recently as 2018, following the acquisition of Sky Betting & Gaming, a big beast in the UK online sports betting world. But just a couple of years later, in early 2020, Flutter and The Stars Group agreed a massive iGaming merger, an all-shares combination between two major online betting organizations that joined together to form an absolute monster of iGaming power. Not bad for Flutter, which was formed just in 2015 when rivals Paddy Power (a traditional Irish bookie) and newfangled British betting exchange Betfair decided to team up. Since then it has gone from strength to strength, and by adding The Stars Group (which includes a significant online presence in poker, sports, and casino betting) Flutter is staking its claim to be one of, if not the, premier betting companies in the world.
And that completes our look at ten of the most significant and successful iGaming mergers of recent years. Will Evolution Gaming continue its march to success through M&A? Time will tell.