Wall Street Reshaping Online Gambling Industry

We tend to think of online gambling as the Wild West, where mavericks build empires from humble offices, compete against each other, come up with the next big thing, and develop the next big marketing idea.

That may have been the case when the internet poker gold rush was on about a decade ago, butaccording to Nathan Vardi of Forbes, those shaping the industry now aren’t so much the logo-patch-on-a-polo-shirt type, but rather the three-piece-suit type. What the landscape of online gambling looks like in the years to come will have a lot to do with Wall Street and big finance.

Vardi’s piece is really a tale about how the battle for bwin.party has gotten to where it is today. The road to bwin.party’s sale began about two years ago in September 2013, whenJason Ader, head of SpringOwl Asset Management, bought $100 million of bwin.party’s stock from Ruth Parasol, founder of Party Gaming, and her ex-husband, Russ DeLeon.

With the stock came a Board seat and Ader immediately began pushing buttons and pulling levers to get the Board arranged in a way he saw beneficial to the company. He also wanted to see bwin.party sold and was able to get the company on the market in the middle of 2014.

Last June, Amaya Gaming bought PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker for $4.9 billion. That was way too much money for Amaya, a small company, to afford, so it enlisted Blackstone Group, the world’s largest private equity firm, and BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, to pitch in.

So now you had two of the gaming industry’s revolutionaries, Parasol and Isai Scheinberg, out of the business, essentially replaced by gigantic financial firms.

In the meantime, there was still a battle to be fought over bwin.party. GVC Holdings, a small online gambling firm, teamed up with Amaya to bid on bwin.party this year. 888 Holdings soon followed suit, backed by two more big banks, JP Morgan Chase and Barclays.

888 won the hand of bwin.party, as the two agreed to a $1.4 billion deal, but GVC wasn’t done. It parted with Amaya and received the backing of Cerberus Capital Management to help sweeten the pot. Even with the increased offer, Vardi writes, it still looks like 888 is the front-runner, as GVC’s new offer leans heavily on stock, which is naturally a riskier proposition for bwin.party shareholders than cash.

Vardi summed up the changing landscape of the online gambling industry earlier in the article when he wrote: “These sorts of symbolic hand-offs have been reshaping the online gambling industry, moving it away from the bold risk-taking entrepreneurs who pioneered the business and putting new players in control… The transformation of online gambling is being driven by Wall Street and some of the biggest names in finance.”

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