Bwin Says It’s Close to Sale of Social Gaming Business

Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, one of the largest online gambling operators in Europe, said it’s close to selling its social gaming business and is in continuing merger talks with other parties.

“We are in active discussions regarding the sale of Win, the group’s social gaming business and expect to make a further announcement shortly,” the Gibraltar-based company said today in a statement.

“The group is continuing its discussions with several parties regarding a variety of potential business combinations with a view to creating additional value for bwin.party,” the company said.

The online gambling business may be in the early stages of a consolidation wave following a disappointing rollout in the U.S. and the $4.9 billion purchase of industry leader PokerStars by Amaya Gaming Group Inc. in June, according to Brian Mattingley, chief executive officer of 888 Holdings Plc, another online gambling company based in Gibraltar.

Bwin’s largest business is sports betting. It also owns Kalixa Group, an online payment service. The company announced the expansion into social gaming in May 2012 with a $50 million investment. Social games resemble casino games such as blackjack and slot machines but are played on Facebook.com and mobile devices.

Bwin appointed a new chairman, Philip Yea, in April, and settled a proxy fight for board seats with SpringOwl Asset Management, led by former casino analyst Jason Ader. Bwin named one of his representatives, Daniel Silvers, as a director in May, as part of changes that included the planned retirement of three board members.

Financial Losses

Losses on the social gaming business would be about 7 million euros ($8.5 million) for the year, the company said in the statement. Bwin also provides online gambling in New Jersey, and the company said it anticipates a loss of 10 million euros on that business.

The company said it expected its revenue for the year to be in the range of 608 million euros to 612 million euros and its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization margin to be 16 percent to 17 percent.

While betting volumes and player numbers were as expected, the amount won by the company, particularly in December, was exceptionally weak, Bwin said. Full-year results will be announced March 10.

‘Time for Change’

“Management should be embarrassed by these results given the strong performance of Bwin’s peers,” Ader said in an e-mail. “The board as a collective, and its chairman are not holding management accountable for loss of market share, poor expense management and business underperformance. The time for change at Bwin is long overdue.”

The company said its results weren’t indicative of a market share loss, but of a margin dip in a “notoriously volatile industry.” Bwin expects to deliver 30 million euros in cost savings in 2014.

“The company is fully engaged on delivering further value for shareholders and I am confident that our efforts are supported by our major institutional shareholders,” Yea said in an e-mailed statement.

Bloomberg News reported in June that the company was seeking to sell all or part of its businesses.

(An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Bwin’s online payments service.)

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