Ladbrokes and Corals may have to sell 1,000 shops

British competition watchdog to rule on merger by end of week

Jim Mullen, chief executive  of Ladbrokes has warned that a ruling demanding the combined group sell too many shops could derail the deal. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Jim Mullen, chief executive of Ladbrokes has warned that a ruling demanding the combined group sell too many shops could derail the deal. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

The British competition watchdog is this week expected to ask bookmakers Ladbrokes and Corals to offload between 400 and 1,000 betting shops as a condition of allowing them to merge.

Ladbrokes, a significant player in the Irish market, plans to join forces with Gala Coral to create a business with more than 4,000 betting shops in Britain, where it would become bookmaking’s biggest retail operator.

However, the deal depends on approval from the British Competition and Markets Authority, which is due to rule on Friday and is thought likely to ask the pair to sell between 400 and 1,000 shops.

Ladbrokes chief executive Jim Mullen has already warned that a ruling demanding the combined group sell too many shops could derail the deal.

However, analysts believe the final number is likely to be at the lower end of the scale and is unlikely to threaten the merger.

The news comes as recently-created betting giant Paddy Power Betfair prepares to hold its first annual general meeting in Dublin today.

That business owns some 600 betting shops between Ireland and Britain, and would be seen as a potential bidder for some of the properties that Ladbrokes-Coral may have to offload.

The Irish-based group has not indicated that it is interested in acquiring any of its rivals’ shops.

Irish businessman Dermot Desmond, who owns 2 per cent of Ladbrokes, is opposed to the deal, and called on shareholders to vote against the merger last year.