Ashurst, BLP, Skadden favourites on William Hill buyout

Ashurst and Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom have secured key instructions as Britain’s biggest bookmaker, William Hill, plans to raise £375m in a rights issue to fund the acquisition of its online division.

The group announced on Friday (1 March) that it will buy out the remaining 29 per cent of William Hill Online from gaming software provider Playtech, which is being advised by Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP), for the agreed price of £424m.

It marks the bookmaker’s second major deal in recent months after the group acquired the Australian and Spanish operations of online betting outfit Sportingbet, a takeover which incurred legal fees of up to £6.85m (28 January 2013).

This latest transaction was again led by Ashurst, with corporate partners Anthony Clare and Jonathan Parry heading a UK team advising the gambling group, on both the rights issue and the buy out, alongside London-based US securities partner Jennifer Schneck.

Meanwhile, Skadden fielded London corporate finance partner James Healy to advise the underwriting banks, which include Barclays, Citi and Investec.

Playtech has turned to BLP London corporate finance partner Alex Latner, who has been advising the group since 2005.

The proposed acquisition is subject to the approval of William Hill shareholders. A meeting for shareholders will be held at Ashurst’s offices on 18 March, according to a statement released by William Hill.

Background to this deal:

Ashurst first won a place on William Hill’s panel in 2008 alongside Addleshaw Goddard and Pinsent Masons following a review that saw general counsel Thomas Murphy invite around 10 firms to tender before settling on just three (23 June 2008).

A year later the firm secured a key instruction from William Hill on its plan to raise £1.2bn in a rights issue and debt facility, with Skadden’s Healy again acting for the underwriting banks (2 March 2009).

More recently, Ashurst advised the bookmaker on the acquisition of the Australian and Spanish online business of Sportingbet, a former Ashurst client (1 October 2012). As main adviser, Ashurst shared the bulk of up to £3.5m in legal fees for their advice on the joint takeover bid (28 January 2013).

One of Ashurst’s first encounters with William Hill was advising private equity group Cinven on its acquisition of the bookmaker for £825m in 1999 (3 January 2009).

BLP has advised gaming software company Playtech, which was also established by Genesis Energy founder Sagi, since 2005. In 2006, BLP advised Playtech on its £550m AIM float, the market’s largest ever at that time (3 April 2006).