Belfast Telegraph

Bookmakers' merger plan sends Ladbrokes shares soaring

By Holly Williams

Ladbrokes shares jumped by as much as a quarter as investors cheered plans for a £4bn merger with Gala Coral, despite competition concerns over the tie-up to create Britain's biggest bookmaker.

FTSE 250-listed Ladbrokes saw its shares leap as much as 20% at one stage after it said it was in early discussions with Gala to merge, forming a business with nearly 4,000 high-street betting shops.

The combined group would overtake William Hill as the biggest gambling firm in the UK, with experts estimating it would be worth close to £4bn. The Ladbrokes brand accounts for 20% of betting shop licences in Northern Ireland with around 70 shops.

It would bring together around 2,100 shops from Ladbrokes and 1,845 from Coral, which does not operate in Northern Ireland. But the deal raises possible competition concerns over a tie-up between the second and third largest bookmakers in Britain and brings back memories of an attempt by Ladbrokes to snap up Coral 17 years ago.

Ladbrokes tried to buy its smaller rival in 1998, but was forced to give up after then trade minister Peter Mandelson intervened on competition grounds.

The separate Ladbrokes Ireland chain went into examinership in April. Boylesports, the Irish chain founded by Co Armagh man John Boyle, is due to make a bid for the business.

Belfast Telegraph