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Chris Sieroty

British bookmaker's push for Nevada gaming license delayed

18 April 2012

Is William Hill PLC's $53 million investment in Nevada in trouble?

No. But the British bookmaker's efforts to gain a Nevada gaming license have been delayed, despite previous expectations that regulators would vote in May. The company is seeking a license after last year's announcement that it will acquire three sports betting companies in Las Vegas.

Nevada gaming regulators were expected to consider William Hill's license application next month, but it has not been included on the May agenda.

The Guardian newspaper in London reports the application was delayed while the Nevada Gaming Control Board takes a closer look at two issues -- Robin Chhabra, William Hill's head of strategy and corporate development, and the company's ties to Playtech in Israel.

Chhabra, who was responsible for the Nevada acquisitions, is a former equity analyst who was fined approximately $150,000 by the Financial Services Authority after he "passed confidential information" to a friend, The Guardian reported.

Chhabra is not expected to have a management role with the new acquisitions.

Nevada regulators are also interested in the company's business ties to Playtech, the Israeli online gambling company that is a joint venture with William Hill online. Playtech is 40 percent owned by its founder, Teddy Sagi, a Tel Aviv-born businessman who was convicted of fraud and bribery in 1996.

Control Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

William Hill in April 2011 agreed to buy American Wagering Inc., the parent of Leroy's Horse & Sports Place sports books and kiosks, for $18 million.

John English, American Wagering's senior vice president of business development and public affairs, said it is "not uncommon for licensing delays to happen."

"This is part of the normal process and proves the Gaming Control Board is taking their time and being thorough," English said by telephone from Miami. "We expect William Hill to be a great asset to Nevada."

The company also purchased Club Cal Neva Satellite Race and Sports book division in Northern Nevada for $21 million and Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, which operates Lucky's sports books, for $14.25 million.

Brandywine Bookmaking President and CEO Joe Asher declined to comment.

David G. Schwartz, director the University of Nevada, Las Vegas' Center for Gaming Research, said William Hill's reputation in Nevada depends a lot on what it will do when it's licensed.

He said the bookmaker is buying three companies that are already successful and have proven track records.

William Hill has always said licensing would take 12 to 18 months. In February, it told shareholders the licensing process in Nevada was expected to be completed by this summer .

To be licensed in Nevada, the state's three-member Gaming Control Board must first approve William Hill's application, and then final approval by the five-member Nevada Gaming Commission.

The delay was not expected to affect William Hill's profitability. The company reported revenues of $1.81 billion last year, a 6 percent increase from the $1.71 billion reported in 2010. William Hill reported an after-tax profit of $233.4 million.

"Our strategic focus continues to be on developing our products to enhance the customer experience, on broadening and strengthening our channels to maximize our customer reach and on developing the business internationally," William Hill Chief Executive Officer Ralph Topping told shareholders in late February.

Obtaining a Nevada gaming license is considered strategically important, as state regulators recently approved online poker regulations for play within the state. Twenty-six companies had applied for a Nevada online gaming license as of March 26. The first online poker licenses are expected to be approved in June.
British bookmaker's push for Nevada gaming license delayed is republished from