Irish bookmaker Boylesports signalled that it could bid for British betting shops that Ladbrokes and Gala Coral must sell so their proposed £2.3 billion sterling merger can go ahead.
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) yesterday told the pair that they must sell about 350 to 400 betting shops in order to obtain clearance for the deal.
Boylesports, whose chief executive and founder John Boyle has made no secret of his ambition to expand the business into Britain, welcomed the news.
“This finding represents a great opportunity to introduce fresh competition to the UK retail betting market,” the company said.
“BoyleSports would welcome the opportunity to bring to retail customers in the UK the same value and quality service which have been the hallmarks of its Irish business.”
Ladbrokes operates about 2,227 betting shops in the UK and Coral about 1,850. The CMA wants them to substantially complete the sale of the shops before the merger can go ahead.
"It is now for the parties to propose a divestment package and one or more suitable purchasers for the CMA to approve," said Martin Cave, who chaired the inquiry.
Ladbrokes agreed the terms of a £2.3 billion all-share merger with Coral in July last year, and shareholders backed the deal in November.
The deal is the latest in a wave consolidations in the industry led by Irish giant Paddy Power Betfair.
Gala Coral is owned by a group of private-equity companies including Apollo, Anchorage and Cerberus.
Additional reporting: Reuters