William Hill could soon find itself in the cross hairs of foreign predators, according to analysts and its own chairman.
City scribblers believe the bookmaker is a takeover target for US gaming groups following this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court to overturn a 26-year ban on sports betting in the US.
And William Hill chairman Roger Devlin has warned a Government crackdown on fixed-odds betting terminals in the UK will leave it vulnerable to bids from overseas.
Takeover interest may be welcomed by investors who have seen Hill’s shares fall by more than a third in the past five years.
City scribblers believe William Hill is a takeover target for US gaming groups following this week’s ruling by the Supreme Court to overturn a 26-year ban on sports betting in the US
The stock rose 10.7 per cent on Monday and another 0.3 per cent, or 0.9p, to 314p yesterday after the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) that has outlawed betting on sport since 1992 in all but four states – Delaware, Montana, Nevada and Oregon.
The ruling paved the way for a sports betting bonanza across America, with 32 states reckoned to be planning to offer sports betting within the next five years.
This presents huge opportunities for British bookies – not least William Hill which operates out of 108 of Nevada’s 190 casinos and has a betting operation ready to launch at Monmouth Park racecourse in New Jersey.
William Hill chief executive Philip Bowcock hailed ‘a landmark moment’ for the company amid hopes that it will be able to start taking bets on hugely popular sports such American football and baseball within weeks.
Stock Watch – Lakehouse
Shares in Lakehouse soared after the support services group won a contract with the Welsh government to improve the energy efficiency of more than 6,000 households.
The £55million, three-year scheme will be delivered through the Arbed am Byth joint venture between the group’s Everwarm subsidiary and the Energy Saving Trust.
It will help families reduce their energy use and bills.
Shares climbed 6.3 per cent, or 2.5p, to 41.8p.
But veteran City commentator David Buik, an analyst at Core Spreads, said: ‘Let’s be under no illusion, US operators already have very large footprints on the ground and they will be very reluctant to surrender ground to the Limey Brigade.
‘A more likely outcome is for William Hill to eventually fall into the arms of a US predator.’
The warning came hours after William Hill’s chairman claimed that the threat to slash the maximum stake on the UK’s lucrative fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2 will leave it at risk of a foreign takeover and jeopardise 20,000 jobs.
Devlin warned Culture Secretary Matt Hancock he would be making a ‘catastrophic’ mistake.
Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: ‘The decision over fixed-odds betting terminals still hangs over shares in William Hill, but its has a terrific foothold in the US.’
The FTSE 100 index edged back towards the all-time high of 7792.56 reached in January, rising 0.2 per cent, or 12 points, to 7722.98. However, the FTSE 250 dipped 0.1 per cent, or 16.03 points, to 20,784.92.
Top of the blue-chip leaderboard was Taylor Wimpey after the housebuilder promised to raise its dividend. Shares rose 3.7 per cent, or 7.2p, to 202.3p.
Its upbeat outlook gave rivals a lift, with Barratt Developments up 2.7 per cent, or 15p, to 568.2p, Persimmon 1.8 per cent higher, or 51p, at 2817p and Bellway 2.8 per cent better, or 92p, at 3433p.
With the oil price rising towards $80 a barrel, before giving up some of its gains, BP was 1.2 per cent higher, or 6.7p, at 577.2p while Royal Dutch Shell gained 1.1 per cent, or 30p, to 2691p.
Analysts at Barclays have set a price target of 675p for BP and 3000p for Shell.
Shares in healthcare company BTG, which specialises in the treatment of liver tumours, severe blood clots, varicose veins and advanced emphysema, fell 10.9 per cent, or 72p, to 590.5p after it plunged into the red.
The company reported annual losses of £70.6million in the year to the end of March, having made profits of £31.6million over the previous 12 months.