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Property Implications On Both Sides Of the Pond As Caesars Buys UK Bookmaker William Hill For $3.7B

A William Hill retail betting house in the U.K.

U.S. casino and entertainment giant Caesars has agreed to buy UK bookmaker William Hill for £3.9B ($3.7B) in a deal that could have real estate implications for both countries.

The two companies announced Wednesday that they had reached a deal for Nasdaq-listed Caesars to pay 272p a share for London-listed William Hill, a 57% premium to the company’s share price before a takeover offer was made. 

Caesars said it is buying William Hill because it sees sports gambling as a huge growth area, and William Hill is a market leader in this field. While the majority of this growth will come through online sports gambling, there will be an opportunity in real estate, too — but this looks very different on the two sides of the Atlantic.

In the U.S., where Caesars and William Hill already have a sports gambling joint venture, the opportunity is for expansion of the existing physical sports gambling footprint, as multiple U.S. states relax gambling regulations. 

William Hill runs the sports gambling operations in the 54 properties in 16 states Caesars owns and operates. 

“Caesars believes that the current joint venture structure between Caesars and William Hill in the U.S. needs to be broadened in scope in order to fully maximize the opportunity in the sports betting and gaming sector and provide the best possible customer experience,” Caesars said in a statement on why it is buying William Hill. 

In the UK, the story is very different. William Hill is a fixture on the UK high street, with sports gambling legal in the UK and “betting shops” common across the country. 

The company has a colourful history. Founder William Hill left school at 12 and worked on farms and in factories, with a business taking illegal bets on the side. In 1934 he set up an illicit gambling den, exploiting a loophole that allowed him to take bets using credit or by post, but not with cash. Gambling was legalised in the UK in 1960 and his empire grew, becoming the biggest bookmaker in Britain by number of shops in 2005, with more than 2,300. Its location count has since been on the decline.

William Hill now has more than 1,400 stores across the UK, but in August announced it was closing 119, due to the impact of the coronavirus. Lockdown measures and a dearth of sports fixtures hit the gambling industry hard. 

Betting shops had been closing in huge numbers even before the lockdown, hit by regulations curbing the use of gambling machines in stores, and a movement of gambling online. William Hill had already shut more than 700 stores in 2019, and said in August it expected to see a permanent reduction in footfall of 10% to 15% across its brick-and-mortar estate.