It is no secret that many of the big on-line poker companies are likely to be busy in the coming years snapping up other poker operations or floating on stock markets. Already this week, the stock market valuation of 888 Holdings on the London market has hit record highs as rumours circulate about the predatory intentions of Ladbrokes in the aftermath of its multi-billion pound deal to hive off its Hinton hotels chain. The chatter in the City seems to have focussed on 888 Holdings, the owner of the on-line 888 Casino-On-Net and Pacific Poker operations, both of which have leading positions in their respective markets.
Ladbrokes owns one of the biggest European poker rooms, Ladbrokespoker.com, whereas Pacific Poker is predominantly US-focussed, and the fourth largest worldwide, so from an on-line poker perspective, there is a neat fit. The same can probably be said of the Ladbrokes betting operations and the US dominated 888.com, which between them cover Europe and the USA comfortably.
A further twist arises because City analysts have noted that 888 Chief Executive, John Anderson, is an ex-employee of Ladbrokes, whilst, overall, the City believes 888 Holdings is cheaply rated making it an attractively priced target.
This development is one of many more that seem sure to emerge as the internet poker sector consolidates and original founders sell out in a hot market.
In a separate report in The Times, it is said that the owners of Pokerstars, an Israeli family, are considering selling their interests in the top on-line company. The company's centre of operations was recently moved to the Isle of Man and it is understood that a City merchant bank has been appointed to oversee the next moves.
Pokerstars is the second largest on-line poker company behind already-floated Party Gaming, and whilst a flotation for Pokerstars is a possibility, there is also plenty of City talk suggesting the likes of Ladbrokes, William Hill or even 888 Holdings itself (also Israeli-controlled) might be interested in buying Pokerstars.
The wheels of the rumour mill are likely to to start grinding faster with each day. Already so far, there is speculation about Ladbrokes being alternatively the hunter or the hunted, and now it seems the same applies to 888.com.
Whatever happens, it is becoming clear that the promised consolidation of the internet poker industry is gathering some early momentum. We will be watching this space with interest.
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