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The merger between two gambling giants was completed on Thursday, as Austria-based bwin and U.K.-based Party Gaming formed to create the world’s largest listed online gambling company. bwin.party digital entertainment began trading Thursday with an opening share price of £1.94. The new London Stock Exchange ticker for bwin.party shares is “BPTY.”

Party Gaming and bwin first announced their intentions to merge back in July. The companies issued a 478-page document to shareholders in December giving a detailed outline of the planned merger. Shareholders voted on the transaction at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) in January, where bwin shareholders unanimously approved of all five resolutions. A total of 335 shareholders attended bwin’s EGM, representing 18.1 million shares.

On April 1, existing bwin shareholders received 12.23 bwin.party depositary interests for each bwin share, giving bwin’s shareholders approximately 52% of the enlarged group. The exchange ratio of 12.23 bwin.party depositary interests for each bwin share will result in so-called “fractional entitlements,” rights to fractions of bwin.party depositary interests that cannot be traded on the London Stock Exchange.

Jim Ryan and Norbert Teufelberger will now begin their new roles as co-CEOs of Bwin.party digital entertainment. Ryan took over as Party Gaming CEO in May 2008 and helped the company expand beyond its flagship poker site PartyPoker. Teufelberger was appointed to the bwin executive board in 2000 before assuming the role of CEO in June 2001.

In a joint statement, the pair said, “We are delighted that our merger is now complete so that we can start with the integration of our businesses and capturing the synergies we have already identified. As we make the transition from unregulated to regulated markets, we have an excellent opportunity to capitalize on our market-leading positions in sports betting, poker, casino, and games as well as bingo.”

The merger also brought several changes in upper management, as Simon Duffy takes over as Non-Executive Chairman of the Board. Former bwin COO Joachim Baca will reprise his role with bwin.party and former Party Gaming Finance Director Martin Weigold will act as CFO of the new group.

Said Duffy, “Congratulations to bwin.party’s directors and employees on managing the merger through to completion. This is a landmark day for the online gaming sector and bwin.party is now in a position to leverage its combined resources to take maximum advantage of regulating markets and the exciting opportunities in the real money gaming and digital entertainment sectors.”

With the merger, Party Gaming hopes to even the playing field in the online poker arena as it positions itself to re-enter the U.S. market. PartyPoker recently dropped to fourth in the PokerScout.com online traffic rankings behind the iPoker Network and industry leaders PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker, which both recently partnered with Las Vegas-based casinos in March. PokerStars and Wynn Resorts announced a strategic partnership last week, while Full Tilt teamed up with Station Casinos’ owners on Thursday to support the Federal legislation of online poker.

The new company also hopes the merge will expand the PartyPoker brand in Europe. bwin poker previously resided on the Ongame Network, but now combines its client base with PartyPoker to create what should become the third largest online poker room in the world.

Said Ryan, “I don’t know that there’s any competitor out there who has a scale to attack and be successful in each of those markets over the course of the next couple of years. This is what this merger does for us.”

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