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Desmond attacks Ladbrokes merger plan as a 'disaster'

By John Mulligan

Published 19/11/2015

Objections: Dermot Desmond
Objections: Dermot Desmond

Billionaire financier Dermot Desmond has severely criticised the planned £2bn merger of betting firms Ladbrokes and Coral.

Mr Desmond urged fellow Ladbrokes shareholders to reject what he called a "disastrous path" for the company.

In a scathing letter to Ladbrokes' shareholders yesterday, he claimed the proposed merger between the two firms was not a good deal and suggested that Ladbrokes should be sold.

Mr Desmond owns at least 1% of Ladbrokes and possibly more, according to a Ladbrokes spokesman. While the precise size of the holding is unclear, it is less than the 3% level that would trigger automatic disclosure to the stock market.

Mr Desmond has held a stake for nine years and received additional shares in Ladbrokes when he sold his Betdaq betting exchange in 2013 to the company for up to €43m (£30m).

The planned merger between Ladbrokes and Coral was announced during the summer amid consolidation in the industry. Rivals Paddy Power and Betfair are also merging.

Ladbrokes has struggled to develop a meaningful digital platform, positioning it behind rivals in a sector where consumers are migrating in significant numbers to online services.

Mr Desmond, who is also a shareholder in Independent News & Media, the publisher of the Belfast Telegraph, told Ladbrokes' shareholders that the merger was being championed by the gambling company's chairman, Peter Erskine, and chairman designate, John Kelly.

"They have led Ladbrokes down the disastrous path to a deal that is effectively the death of Ladbrokes as an independent company," Mr Desmond said.

He has also published an extensive 58-page document online detailing the reasons for his opposition.

Mr Kelly was previously the chairman and the chief executive of Coral.

Belfast Telegraph

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