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PokerStars Makes Deal To Acquire Sky Bet For $4.7B

Online Gambling Platform Continues Pivot From Poker

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PokerStars is all in on sports betting.

The online site’s parent company announced Saturday that it has agreed to acquire Sky Betting & Gaming from private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and the British media company Sky in a cash and stock transaction valued at $4.7 billion. The merger will result in the “world’s largest publicly listed online gaming company”, according to the Stars Group, formerly known as Amaya Gaming Group.

Amaya bought PokerStars in 2014 for $4.9 billion.

“The acquisition of SBG is a landmark moment in the Stars Group’s history,” company CEO Rafi Ashkenazi said in a statement. “SBG operates one of the world’s fastest growing sportsbooks and is one of the U.K.’s leading gaming providers. SBG’s premier sports betting product is the ideal complement to our industry-leading poker platform. The ability to offer two low-cost acquisition channels of this magnitude provides the Stars Group with great growth potential.”

Ashkenazi added that the Stars Group will become "the world’s favorite iGaming destination” under the deal. The company said it identified cost synergies of at least $70 million per year.

Despite its strong global presence, PokerStars is licensed in just one U.S. jurisdiction for online betting (New Jersey), and the platform is currently shut out of online poker liquidity sharing with Nevada because it doesn’t have interactive gaming approval from Las Vegas casino regulators. In 2015, PokerStars launched an offshoot offering called BetStars, a sports betting product that could soon find a place in the U.S. if the Supreme Court this year overturns a federal law banning sports betting outside of Nevada. Acquiring SBG bolsters PokerStars’ fledgling sports betting business. In 2016, Amaya’s deal to merge with William Hill, another sports betting juggernaut, fell through.

SBG is currently home to the United Kingdom’s largest active online player base, according to the Stars Group. The U.K. is the world’s largest regulated online gambling market.

The Stars Group will soon rely on poker less than ever before. According to the news release, poker could eventually represent about a third of the company’s gambling winnings going forward thanks to the acquisition of SBG. PokerStars had revenue of $877 million in 2017 from real-money poker games, a small increase over 2016. The poker revenue was 67 percent of the group’s total gambling winnings last year, down from roughly 73 percent in 2016.

The company’s emerging online sportsbook offerings saw its active user base grow by 27 in the fourth quarter of 2017. The SBG deal is expected to continue the growth.

The news release also said that Stars has obtained “fully committed” debt financing of about $7 billion. About $3.6 billion of the purchase price will come in the form of cash, with the rest coming from newly-issued shares. Some of the financing will go towards paying off SBG’s debt.

The Stars Group ended 2017 with about $283 million in operational cash on its balance sheet.

The group’s board of directors unanimously approved the transaction. The company anticipates the transaction closing in the third quarter of 2018.