Belfast Telegraph

Boylesports on to £130m winner if merger by rivals gets the go-ahead

By Sara Neill

Co Armagh's richest man, who owns a chain of betting shops, could be set to take on Britain's largest bookmakers.

Boylesports currently has more than 200 bookies across the Republic.

Its owner, Markethill man John Boyle, may benefit from a multi-million pound merger between Ladbrokes and Gala Coral.

The firms are expected to join forces to create a betting giant worth £2.3bn.

But for that deal to go through, they will have to sell hundreds of shops in order to satisfy the Competition Commission.

That has attracted the attention of Mr Boyle, who confirmed an £130m expression of interest in 600 shops has been made.

The 58-year-old said: "We've never made any secret of our interest in entering the British market.

"For us it's always been about the right opportunity, and this proposed merger may provide exactly that opportunity.

"We have considerable experience competing against the British operators in Ireland and we are quite confident we can compete against them in the UK market."

Mr Boyle said the approach is still in the early stages, and depends on how the Ladbrokes Coral merger works out.

He has headed up Boylesports bookmakers for more than 30 years, building the business from an empty shop with nothing but a knowledge of the industry and a need to succeed.

In 1982 he was struggling with a serious drink problem, lost his job as a van driver, and had a wife and two children to support.

He spent his teenage years working part-time in his father's betting shop, and had been dry for less than a year when a store went up for sale in his home town.

With a £6,000 loan from his father and £10,000 from the bank, Mr Boyle made the first inroads into what would become a multi-million pound business.

Seven years after acquiring the first shop, the second Boylesports opened - this time in Drogheda, Co Louth.

Now there are more than 200 Boylesports shops across the Republic, with 1,200 employees and an annual turnover estimated at €1bn.

Mr Boyle himself - now a father-of-seven and a grandfather - is thought to be worth €57m and features on the Sunday Times Rich List.

The original bookies in Markethill still stands, but it remains the only Boylesports shop in Northern Ireland, because of cost.

He said: "It's very hard to get licences in the North whereas in the South it's very easy. They cost a lot of money in the North and in the South they are free.

"We'd move anywhere if the move was right and there was something in it."

The company has long since been based in Dundalk, Co Louth, and Mr Boyle purchased the headquarters at auction last spring.

It has a strong online presence that stretches across Europe, and if the proposed deal with Ladbrokes and Gala Coral proceeds, this would be Boylesports first venture in Britain.

An acquisition over the Ladbrokes Gala Coral deal would be the latest in a series by Boylesports.

In 2011 it took over 17 shops from Celtic Bookmakers, and in a separate negotiation procured 15 William Hill shops in the Republic.

The imminent merger of Ladbrokes and Gala Coral means the combined group is set to overtake William Hill as the UK's biggest bookmaker,

The deal would also elevate Gala Coral, which currfently sits at number three in the gambling industry.

It is carrying debts of £2.2bn, and is owned by private equity investors, including Cerberus Capital Management, which took control of the firm in 2010.

Paddy Power, which has 321 shops in the UK, is another potential buyer of the Ladbrokes Coral stores. When contacted by the Belfast Telegraph, the company declined to comment on the issue.

Belfast Telegraph