It was only a matter of time. After a failed attempt to enter the industry M&A fray last year with a bid for 888, William Hill finds itself back in the mix. Only this time it is the hunted, rather than the hunter.

A consortium comprising Rank Group and 888 Holdings is plotting a bid for the struggling operator, worth an estimated £3bn. 

The structure of the proposed deal remains unclear, but Rank and 888 talk about the “consolidation of [William Hill’s] complementary online and land-based operations.” This may suggest that they would split the business, with Rank bolstering its land-based offering with William Hill’s licensed betting office estate, and 888 taking on the online business. At the moment, however, we can only speculate.

William Hill’s initial response has hardly been enthusiastic. The operator’s board says that while it it will listen to any proposal that Rank and 888 may make, “it is not clear that a combination of William Hill with 888 and Rank will enhance William Hill's strategic positioning or deliver superior value to William Hill's strategy”.

Many observers are equally unsure.

“Look at the regulatory backdrop [in the industry]. It’s not clear at all,”  says former William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping. “Is it the right time to do such a complicated transaction? I’m not so sure.

“A three-way deal is highly complicated, but it may make more sense to do a two-way deal.” 

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