William Hill Hits 5-Year High on Control of Online: London Mover

William Hill Plc, a U.K. operator of more than 2,300 betting shops, rose to its highest price since October 2007 after saying it will take full control of its online operation in a deal with Playtech Ltd.

The shares advanced 9.5 percent to 443.3 pence, the biggest gain in more than three years, at the close of trading in London. More than 10 million shares changed hands, more than four times the three-month daily average.

“The exercising of the call option is welcome as it gives the group full strategic control over the business,” Gavin Kelleher, an analyst at Goodbody who recommends buying the stock, said in a note. “Mobile continues to be a driver.”

William Hill is exercising an option to acquire Playtech’s 29 percent stake in William Hill Online, the London-based company said today in a statement. It joins retail gambling firms including Ladbrokes Plc in expanding online betting as more customers use mobile phones and the Internet to place bets. New Jersey approved online betting this week, raising investor expectations that more U.S. states will allow the practice.

Playtech shares fell 2.4 percent even as Chief Executive Officer Mor Weizer said he was “delighted” with the offer. Playtech is receiving a “full valuation” for its stake in William Hill Online and has plenty of cash to propel further growth, he said in a phone interview.

Rights Issue

Taking control of the digital division is a “compelling opportunity to strengthen the group,” William Hill Chief Executive Officer Ralph Topping said today on a conference call with journalists. “The shape of the group in future is a possible 50/50 split between land-based and online.”

William Hill said it plans to raise 375 million pounds in a fully underwritten rights issue to pay for full control of the online business, which had an “outstanding performance in

2012.” The company also said its acquisition of Sportingbet Plc is on track to be completed by March 19.

“We believe that the two deals transform William Hill into a fast growing online operation and there remains scope for further multiple expansion,” Greg Johnson, an analyst at Shore Capital who recommends buying the stock, said in a note.

William Hill’s online revenue gained 27 percent in 2012 from a year earlier, while sales at retail shops rose 6 percent, it said today. The company beat analysts’ estimates for operating profit and full-year sales.

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