TORONTO, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Canadian online gambling company Amaya Inc has received strong interest from strategic players and some private equity firms, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
Several bids have come in, and suitors include British bookmaker William Hill Plc and GVC Holdings Plc, a sports betting and gaming company based in the Isle of Man, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity as the talks are not public. They spoke this week and last week.
Meanwhile, former Amaya Chief Executive David Baazov, subject of an insider trading investigation from Quebec’s securities regulator, has finally abandoned plans to bid for the company, the sources said. Amaya said in February it received a nonbinding proposal from Baazov to take the company private, but the formal bid never came.
The bids for the operator of online gambling website PokerStars are above Baazov’s planned offer price of C$21 per share, the sources said.
Amaya’s shares were trading at C$21.48 in Toronto on Friday, giving it a market capitalization of about C$3.1 billion ($2.34 billion).
The board’s special committee “has not made a determination as to whether a transaction of any kind is in the best interests of the company at this time and will continue its review of alternatives,” Amaya spokesman Eric Hollreiser said.
William Hill declined comment. GVC did not respond to requests for comment.
Baazov had prepared a bid but waited to sort out issues with the securities regulator before submitting it, the sources said. He was mulling a bid as recently as the summer, they said.
In August, Baazov resigned as chief executive. Amaya named Rafi Ashkenazi as his replacement.
William Hill, itself a subject of an approach from 888 Holdings and Rank Group, rejected a revised takeover bid from the two rivals in August.
Amaya paid $4.9 billion to acquire the owner and operator of the PokerStars and Full Tilt Poker brands in 2014, saying at the time that the deal created the largest publicly traded online gaming company.
The company’s biggest revenue contributions are from the Isle of Man and Malta, while it has also recently expanded into France, Italy, Spain and Britain, and expects to soon gain regulatory approval to operate in the Czech Republic and the Netherlands. It sees its biggest growth opportunity in the United States.
After a lengthy approval process, Amaya won permission to operate PokerStars in New Jersey, one of the first U.S. states to legalize the business.
The company last year limited the operations of its StarsDraft fantasy sports business in most U.S. states as a string of jurisdictions grapple with whether the fast-growing, multibillion-dollar industry constitutes illegal gambling. $1 = 1.3256 Canadian dollars) (Reporting by John Tilak and Alastair Sharp in Toronto, and Paul Sandle in London; Editing by Matthew Lewis)