Australia's CrownBet Brand

Australia’s CrownBet Brand Targeted by William Hill, PaddyPower Betfair in Talks

The ongoing wave of gambling-industry merger and acquisition talks has added a new chapter, this time spreading to Australia, where James Packer’s CrownBet empire is reported to be the subject of acquisition talks by both William Hill and PaddyPower Betfair.

William Hill was the first European bookmaking giant to be connected to CrownBet talks. Unidentified company spokespeople confirmed to financial outlets in both the UK and Australia that “very preliminary discussions” with CrownBet have occurred in recent weeks. A day later, other business outlets broke the story that William Hill wasn’t the only CrownBet suitor, as PaddyPower Betfair was reported as also being in the mix.

A CrownBet spokesperson also confirmed the talks’ existence, but without further detail. “This industry is undergoing consolidation and people in the sector talk to each other all the time,” the spokesperson told a UK outlet. “Don’t look too much into this as a firing gun.”

Both suitors’ existing brands are already well known Down Under. William Hill operates the popular Aussie-centric SportingBet brand in addition to its own William Hill offerings, while Paddy owns the SportsBet brand plus Betfair Australasia, which already has a business relationship with Crown.

The CrownBet empire represents a juicy acquisition for whichever suitor can close the deal, though it’s not without some risks and blemishes. As with other Australian gambling firms, CrownBet will be feeling the increasing impact of changes made to the country’s gambling codes, which include a crackdown on credit-card funding of wagering accounts. That ban on the use of plastic takes effect in February of 2018, and it of course affect Willaim Hill’s and PaddyPower Betfair’s existing Australian business as well.

Australia’s online-poker players, of course, are well familiar with other aspects of the widespread crackdown on several gambling forms. Online poker itself is de facto illegal under current Australian law, though some small chance exists for a future carveout.

Crown Resorts, which owns 62 percent of the online-betting brand CrownBet, has also suffered a major black eye in the region in recent months, following the arrests in late October of 2016 of 19 Crown employees. Among them were Crown’s head of international VIP gambling Jason O‘Connor, and the arrests were connected to Crown’s ongoing luring of Chinese gambling whales in junket-style deals.

Such junketeering has been made illegal under Chinese law, and the Crown case saw the defendants released this past summer after spending less than a year in Chinese prisons. However, the episode caused Crown Resorts to sell off its corporate assets in the China-controlled gambling hub of Macau, and it largely curtailed Crown’s active marketing toward sought-after Chinese gamblers.

All that contributes to CrownBet being in play for the right price, even if numbers haven’t yet been tossed around. Both William Hill and PaddyPower Betfair have been among the most active negotiators with other gambling firms within the European sphere, though 2017 has seen most rumored takeover deals failing to reach fruition.

No selling price has been offered publicly in connection with any possible deal. Given the preliminary nature of the talks, the share prices of the companies were largely unchanged in weekend trading.

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