GVC Wins bwin.party Bid, But What Will Happen to PartyPoker?

Alex Weldon : September 4th, 2015


Once again, it seems that the question of who will ultimately buy up bwin.party has been settled, but the answer is the opposite of what it was the last time. A bidding war for the company has been going on since May, between 888 Holdings and GVC Holdings.

In July, it looked like it was all but a done deal for 888, as their offer earned the recommendation of bwin.party’s board members; GVC’s offer was higher, but was being made in conjunction with Amaya. As much of GVC’s business is related to sports betting, while Amaya owns the world’s largest online poker brand in PokerStars, it seemed apparent that bwin.party would be broken up if acquired through this partnership. 888, on the other hand, covers all those bases already, so the board felt that 888’s offer was better for the company’s future, even if slightly less lucrative in the immediate term.

GVC proved unwilling to give up so easily, however, and pressed on without the support of Amaya, ultimately finding the financial backing necessary to make a £1.12 billion ($1.71 billion) offer on its own. That amount, under those terms, was apparently enough to sway bwin.party’s board to come around. 888, meanwhile, has reached its threshold for pain, stating that “as a result of its own extensive due diligence on bwin.party, it cannot see sufficient value in bwin.party to warrant a revision to its offer.”

888’s language on the subject makes it seem that they’re out of the race for good, so barring an unlikely U-turn by GVC or the even more unlikely scenario of yet another company suddenly jumping in with an offer, this time around the deal probably is actually final.

The question now is whether the end result of GVC going it alone is that bwin.party will actually remain intact, or whether PartyPoker will end up going to someone else after all. GVC chief executive Kenny Alexander, in speaking to industry analysts, hedged a little on the subject, stating that GVC “plans to grow all parts of bwin business but will of course consider any attractive opportunities to dispose of some.”

This is the sort of statement that it’s easy to read a lot into. For instance, Global Poker Index CEO Alexandre Dreyfus was quick to latch onto it and speculate that it may be subtle way of saying that PartyPoker was likely to be sold off to Amaya after all.

Of course, the fact that GVC originally bid on bwin.party with Amaya’s support is no guarantee that they plan on selling PartyPoker to Amaya specifically. After all, assuming that the deal goes through, they will now own all of bwin.party independently, and can do whatever they like with PartyPoker, including selling it to Amaya, or 888, or anyone else.

Although PartyPoker is no longer what it once was, with only about half the traffic of 888 and less than a tenth of PokerStars’s, it’s important to remember that it was the largest site in the early days of the poker boom. Unlike other sites such as PokerStars and Full Tilt, it left the US market in 2006 when the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) was passed, and was therefore not caught up in Black Friday.

As the US regulatory battle grinds on, that may turn mean that PartyPoker is in a better position to make a comeback in the US than some of these other brands, both in terms of legal hurdles and customer trust; in whose hands the brand ultimately ends up is therefore a rather interesting question for the future of the industry, but we may just have to wait to get an answer.

Alex Weldon (@benefactumgames) is a freelance writer, game designer and semipro poker player from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

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