Belfast Telegraph

BoyleSports hits out at move to sell shops to Betfred

By Donal O'Donovan

Boylesports, the bookmaking chain led by Co Armagh man John Boyle, is eyeing new takeover targets after being pipped at the post to buy 360 betting shops, following the merger of Ladbrokes and Gala Coral.

The Irish betting chain, which started off with one shop in Mr Boyle's home village of Markethill, effectively accused Ladbrokes and Gala Coral of trying to block its entry into the UK market.

In a statement, BoyleSports said it is "disappointed" that Ladbrokes and Gala Coral have agreed to sell their 359 shops to two UK retailers, despite a higher bid from Ireland.

The firm said its bid was higher than the £55.5m achieved in the sale of 322 retail outlets to Betfred and 37 stores to Stan James.

BoyleSports said its higher offer was fully funded, cognisant of the changing political and regulatory UK landscape, and could have been completed within two weeks of acceptance.

"BoyleSports believes the decision not to allow a challenger brand onto the UK high street is bad for retail consumers, who would have benefited from the keen pricing and excellent service already available to our existing Irish retail customers, and to online customers in Ireland and the UK," the company said in a statement.

"BoyleSports will be communicating its concerns to the Competition and Markets Authority and is reviewing its options on what other steps may be open to us."

A spokesman for Ladbrokes said: "Although they are well within their rights to raise their views with the CMA, we are comfortable with our decision, based on the bids received in the process.

"It was critical for us to achieve levels of certainty within a suitable timescale, to enable us to move towards completion and realise the outstanding opportunities that the merger provides."

Back in July, it was the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) that ordered the sale of the retail outlets as a precondition for a planned £2.2bn merger of Ladbrokes and Gala Coral.

Ladbrokes boss Jim Mullen said: "The sale of these shops will clear the last significant hurdle to delivering on the merger with Coral and paves the way for our focus on completion and quickly delivering on the opportunities the merger offers."

BoyleSports is the biggest independent betting chain in the Irish market with more than 200 stores.

But it has just four in Northern Ireland, including the very first shop in Markethill and others in Crossmaglen and Newry.

Mr Boyle has long held ambitions to become a player in Great Britain. The company employs 1,700 people across the company.

In 2008, it made a move to buy the UK's then state-owned Tote business, but also lost out to BetFred.

Plans to expand beyond the Irish market were effectively put on ice during the recession, when Boylesports targeted expansion at home, including buying assets from Ivan Yates' Celtic Bookmakers and the Hackett's chain.

Boylesports made a €25m (£22.5m) bid to acquire Ladbrokes' Irish arm, but the bid was rejected by an Examiner appointed to the business.

The incumbent retained the Irish chain, although the Examinership saw 53 of the 196 Ladbrokes outlets here shut.

Boylesport is looking to grow in a fast-consolidating sector. Earlier this year, Paddy Power and Betfair completed their huge merger, creating one of the world's biggest online gambling firms.

William Hill, the UK's biggest high street bookmaker, rejected a £3bn takeover approach from Rank Group and 888 in August.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.