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Online Poker News Archives - October 24, 2004

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Copyright 2004 Times Newspapers Limited
Sunday Times (London)

October 24, 2004, Sunday

HEADLINE: Sportingbet is set to raise poker stakes

BYLINE: Matthew Goodman

    THE world's largest internet betting group, Sportingbet, is in talks to acquire Paradisepoker, an online poker firm, for more than £170m.

    The acquisition would almost double the size of Sportingbet, whose shares are traded on the Alternative Investment Market. It has a market value of Pounds 229m.

    The news comes as it emerged that Richard Segal, the former boss of Odeon Cinemas, has joined the owner of the world's biggest online poker business

    as chief executive. His appointment to the board of iGlobalmedia will fuel speculation that the firm could be grooming itself for a flotation.

    Sportingbet announced last week that it was in "advanced discussions" about a "potential substantial acquisition of an online poker business".

    It did not name the company it is buying, but The Sunday Times has learnt that the target is Tropical Paradise, which operates the Paradisepoker website from Costa Rica. The site has been on a publicity drive in Britain this year and launched a series of advertisements featuring the model Caprice.

    Industry sources said that the founders of Tropical Paradise had been trying to sell the business for several months.

    Last week, Sportingbet, founded in 1998 by bookmaker Mark Blandford, said its acquisition would be "significantly earnings enhancing" although it warned it was not certain a deal would be agreed.

    Sportingbet was recently named the world's leading online gambling operator by the industry bible eGaming Review, which put it ahead of Ladbrokes and William Hill.

    The purchase of Partypoker would give it an even greater lead.

    Last week, a report on the interactive gaming industry by the stockbroker Arbuthnot Securities gave a "buy" recommendation for Sportingbet and said the company had "an opportunity to accelerate progress".

    However, some investors have remained wary of the company because it does a large part of its business in America, where online sports betting is banned.

    Partypoker has been discussing a flotation with a small number of investment banks, as revealed by The Sunday Times last month, and Segal's appointment will be seen as a another step towards this goal.

    Segal, 41, left Odeon in August last year after seven years at the cinema chain.

    He said last night how excited he was to be joining: "The growth rates both in terms of this market and this business are something that are fairly unequalled."

    Segal had been considering a number of opportunities with private-equity groups before deciding to join iGlobalmedia during the summer.

    Meanwhile, Betfair, the online betting exchange, will this week announce plans to launch a legal challenge to the Dutch government over its decision to award an exclusive betting licence to De Lotto, the monopoly betting and gaming firm in Holland.

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