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Amaya Weighing Offers; PokerStars to Change Hands Again?

  • Mo NuwwarahMo Nuwwarah

Amaya Inc., parent company of PokerStars, is weighing a number of possible future moves that could see the world's leading online poker operator change hands again, Reuters reported Friday.

The most prominent and perhaps interesting of possibilities is a merger with sports betting giant William Hill. The two companies confirmed in a press release from Amaya that they have been in talks for a "potential all share merger of equals."

"Amaya has been undertaking a review of its strategic alternatives since February 2016," Amaya stated. "Over recent months, the board of William Hill has been evaluating options to accelerate William Hill's strategy of increasing diversification by growing its digital and international businesses."

Since acquiring PokerStars in 2014, Amaya has made a clear effort to diversify the online poker giant's revenues. The company added a sports betting vertical, BetStars, and acquired daily fantasy sports operator Victiv, which was rebranded as StarsDraft.

Given that, the appeal of a merger with William Hill is obvious. Each company brings a massive customer base to bear for the other to easily access and market to: William Hill's sports bettors could potentially become Amaya's poker players as well and vice versa. Both companies could potentially strengthen their weaker verticals. William Hill currently operates an online poker room under the iPoker network.

"The potential merger would be consistent with the strategic objectives of both William Hill and Amaya and would create a clear international leader across online sports betting, poker and casino," the press release stated.

William Hill serves as the sportsbook operator for a number of Las Vegas casinos, including SLS, Four Queens, Binion's and Hooters.

Another potential move mentioned by Reuters, citing anonymous, was an acquisition by GVC Holdings PLC, owner and operator of longtime online poker giant partypoker. While PokerStars remains by far and away the market leader, partypoker currently ranks third in online traffic with a seven-day average of 1,050 cash players according to PokerScout.

One possible buyer was explicitly mentioned as out of the running by the Reuters report: founder and former CEO David Baazov. Baazov's troubles have been well-documented. He temporarily stepped away from the company in light of an as-yet-unresolved insider trading investigation earlier this year. The hiatus became permanent in August when Baazov resigned all positions within the company.

Baazov had previously announced a cash bid to reacquire the company he took public. He most recently made headlines for failing to testify at the insider trading hearing against his associates. That bid is now on ice.

No matter what happens, it's going to take some serious capital for any person or entity to take hold of Amaya. Joss Wood of OnlinePokerReport estimated the company's market value at $3 billion.

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