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Saturday, March 20, 2010

PartyGaming still in M&A talks: Eyes return to United States - March 2010

Online gambling group PartyGaming, the firm behind PartyCasino.com, PartyPoker.com, PartyBingo.com, PartyBets.com, Cashcade and World Poker Tour, said it remained in talks over potential deal opportunities and was optimistic about a possible return to the United States as its 2009 earnings beat expectations.

"We are certainly in discussions with a few parties on a number of different opportunities," Chief Executive Jim Ryan told reporters.

However, he stressed that talks remained at a preliminary stage and declined to comment on the size or identity of the companies PartyGaming is talking to.

Analysts say the online gaming industry is fragmented and rife for consolidation and PartyGaming has been linked to a possible merger with Austria's bwin.

"There are a list of suspects who one would expect us to be talking to given that our focus is consolidating the online gaming sector," Ryan said.

PartyGaming said earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) from continuing operations fell to $135 million from $144.2 million the year before, reflecting a decline in poker revenues.

That was ahead of the consensus forecast of $133.3 million, according to a poll of analysts supplied by the company.

PartyGaming's poker revenues have been hit by competition from online gaming businesses which continue to offer services to U.S. based players despite the industry being made illegal in that country in 2006.

Ryan said he was encouraged by recent moves in the U.S. to overturn the legislation. U.S. congressmen Barney Frank and Jim McDermott are attempting to push through a new bill to regulate the industry. They argue that, if it was introduced, it would generate tax revenues of about $42 billion over ten years.

PartyGaming has already reached agreement with U.S. authorities which will protect it from being prosecuted over its past activities there.

Ryan said the settlement will make it easier for PartyGaming to re-enter the U.S. market and also clears the way for it to engage in M&A activity.

"We are talking to a number of U.S. entities about doing business with them when the U.S. market regulates. It's positioned us for growth from an M&A perspective and, from an operational perspective, I think it's our ticket back into the United States."

Other operators such as 888 and Sportingbet have yet to reach a deal with the Department of Justice.

Ryan said he thinks the U.S. is moving closer to re-opening to online gaming companies.

"We're hearing rumors that we're going to get support from the land-based operators for online gaming so it seems like momentum is building," he said, adding it was "not impossible" new legislation could be introduced this year.

Shares in PartyGaming, which have risen by 17 percent in the last 3 months, were up 0.13 percent to 303.4 pence at time of publication.

"PartyGaming is remarkably well prepared for a whole variety of changes. Although there is no new information on a possible game-changing acquisition, we believe it is more likely than not," said Numis analyst Wyn Ellis.

An insider said "PartyGaming is also said to be in a leading position to secure the Canadian Poker Tour, which could be another strategic way into the U.S market and beyond. Party also own and operate the World Poker Tour which has the strong potential to become bigger than the World Series of Poker and European Poker Tour put together. Poker and online poker generally remain more government and media friendly than pure casino and online casino products, so Party has an edge in that department also".

More news as it come to light.

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