Ladbrokes Investors Clear Coral Deal as Desmond Keeps Objecting

Ladbrokes Plc won shareholders’ backing for its planned merger with rival U.K. bookmaker Coral Group, overcoming opposition from Irish billionaire Dermot Desmond.

Proxy votes in favor of the deal were received in respect of more than 700 million shares, Chairman Peter Erskine said at an extraordinary general meeting in London Tuesday. With about 1 billion shares in issue, that’s enough to carry the vote.

Dermot Desmond
Dermot Desmond
Photographer: Lynne Cameron/PA via AP

Desmond, who owns 2.8 percent of Ladbrokes shares, has criticized the merger, describing it as a “bad deal” and suggesting that the bookmaker should put itself up for sale. Speaking at the meeting, Desmond said shareholders that he has spoken to in recent days have understood his views.

“In these discussions it has become clear that while most have placed their proxy in favor of the resolutions, they have huge sympathy with the points we raised and are voting for the Coral transaction out of a sense of frustration and resignation with the current board and management,” Desmond said. “I share their frustration, but not their resignation.”

The transaction, announced in July, will give control to Coral’s private-equity owners, he wrote in a letter to Ladbrokes shareholders last week.

Desmond, who sold the Betdaq betting exchange to Ladbrokes in 2013, has said the transaction will likely require significant disposals of betting shops to meet antitrust concerns, potentially helping competitors. Analysts estimate that as many as 1,000 shops may have to be sold or closed, resulting in as much as 70 million pounds ($106 million) in lost earnings, he said at the meeting.

It’s been an active year for betting-industry consolidation as increased regulation and taxation cause companies to seek efficiencies through mergers. Paddy Power Plc agreed to acquire Betfair Group Plc for 2.87 billion pounds, while GVC Holdings Plc is buying Bwin.party Digital Entertainment Plc for about 1.12 billion pounds.

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