SBC Spotlight: UK & US partnerships point towards gambling’s new frontier

The eyes of gambling leadership in the UK are increasingly on the market of the United States, as opportunities are likely to knock following last year’s repeal of the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), after a challenge by New Jersey enabled states to allow sports betting.

In recent years there has been a steady trail of merger and acquisition deals involving UK companies buying up gambling institutions stateside, according to financial intelligence experts Dealogic.

For example five years ago Bitcoin mining company MGT Capital Investments, splashed out $1 million to buy the DraftDay fantasy sports business and software platform, from CardRunners Gaming Inc.

Although since the end of PASPA, there has been evidence of an uptick in interest.

Empire Resorts which hosts casinos was purchased by the bet365 Group for $50 million in November last year.

Also at the end of last year, London listed 888 Holdings bought the remaining 53% in the All American Poker Network for $28 million, in what was originally a joint venture established in 2013.

The move is seen as a strategic milestone for the group’s development in the United States.

In another bold move, GVC Holdings, the owner of Ladbrokes and Coral confirmed last July a £153 million link up with MGM Resorts International, the world’s biggest casino operator, creating a sports betting and interactive gaming platform.

Although William Hill have been the trailblazers in the UK when it comes to gaining a presence in the United States’ gambling market.

In 2016 it was part a significant merger and acquisition deal, with a $142 million takeover of the NYX Gaming Group, completed alongside Bonne Terre Ltd.

Since 2012 after the merger of three companies which created William Hill US, it has achieved a market share of around 30% in Nevada, with 107 sport books in 190 casinos.

Nevada evaded the PASPA ruling in 1992, as it was the only state at that time that had widespread legalised sports betting laws already in place.

Rapid progress has also been made in New Jersey, the state which successfully challenged PASPA, as William Hill now has a sports book at the Monmouth Park racetrack, with legal betting beginning in June last year.

In its Capital Markets Day review held in November last year, William Hill forecast that the early movers following the defeat of PASPA, could produce $1.4 billion of Gross Gaming Revenue (GGR) in the first three years of trading.

So far, Nevada and New Jersey have been joined by New Mexico, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania,  Delaware and Rhode Island in having passed bills to allow live single-game sports betting.

While the second wave of states, up to 20 of them as predicted in William Hill’s presentation, could raise up to $7.5 billion of GGR over the course of the next three years.

George Salmon –Hargreaves Lansdowne

George Salmon, an equity analyst with Hargreaves Lansdowne, reflected: “There could be a continuation of high profile deals such as the one between GVC and MGM. The United States’ gambling market is potentially a very lucrative market now.”

“There are big casino operators looking to take advantage of the conditions of the United States’ gambling market, in the wake of the repeal of PASPA. Casinos are at the forefront at the moment, but there will be this whole demand for mobile phone gambling..”

“The Supreme Court’s decision to repeal PASPA is a game changer for sure, the problem for all interested parties is that it will take years to see how much of a game changer that it will be.”

“Paddy Power, William Hill and GVC will all have a different approach, due to the sheer size of the market, and as there’s a huge population who are sports mad with plenty willing to place bets, it will be a market punch up.”

Velo Partners have a large portfolio of mostly UK and European venture capital investments focused on the games and gambling sectors, and are considered as one of the most active gambling sector investors.

Currently, it has a portfolio in the sports betting market which includes New York-based RotoQL, a data business focused on the DFS and betting sectors, and London-based Odd Bods, which is building a fresh approach to odds comparison and analysis tools for sports betting operators.

Evan Hoff – Velo Partners

Evan Hoff, the founder of Velo Partners said: “Yes that is almost certainly a trend that UK gambling companies will be buying into the American market”

“Of course there maybe any number of partnerships between land-based casinos and European online operators for the casino and sports betting rollout in New Jersey etc. I expect some mergers and acquisitions may inevitably follow from that.”

“PASPA, of course, is the big catalyst, it is massive, the impact can’t be understated in the context of the global betting industry.”  He added.

“It has unleashed a wave of investment, innovation, entrepreneurialism and dynamism into the sector that has in many markets had a tough few years of headwinds.”

One of the major risks in investing in gambling companies are the unpredictable levels of regulations that any country might put into place.

Recently in the UK, there was the clampdown on fixed-odds gambling machines, which have affected profits for companies such as GVC.

The situation in the United States is different in that in the aftermath of PASPA, the states themselves will have varying attitudes towards gambling, due to their diverse cultures.

American Gaming Association research confirmed that there are currently 22 states that active sports betting legislation in 2019, including Texas and Illinois.

Yet there are seven states such as Virginia and North and South Dakota that now have dead sports betting legislation this year, plus a further eight states including California, who have had no sports betting bills that have even been initiated.

Victoria Pease – Edison

Victoria Pease, a consumer sector analyst at Edison Investments, is uncertain about how successful the post-PASPA United States gambling market might become: “The United States online gambling market is still at a nascent stage and very few online operators currently generate meaningful profits.”

“After PASPA, the US online gambling market is not going to change dramatically overnight. It is apparent that the market will take a while to produce tangible results with revenues and profits, and  partly due to the fact that  share prices in United States gambling companies have since declined.”

“Given the regulatory risks involved, gambling stocks typically trade at a meaningful discount to the wider market. They mostly have capital-light business models and generate high cash flow, meaning that the dividend yields are very attractive.”

UK gambling outlets are certain to sit tight and wait to see how the market now evolves, and then decide which bets to place on United States investments.

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Feature written by Peter Taberner

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