888 Plunges As Regulators Examine Kenny Alexander Investment

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Posted on: July 14, 2023, 02:53h. 

Last updated on: July 14, 2023, 02:53h.

Shares of 888 Holdings Plc (OTC: EIHDF) plunged Friday after the gaming company warned its UK license could be on the line as regulators there examine an investment in the firm by a vehicle controlled by Kenny Alexander.

FS Gaming
A William Hill shop in the UK. Parent company 888 halted talks with Kenny Alexander’s FS Gaming amid regulatory scrutiny. (Image: The Times)

Last month, FS Gaming Investments, an investment group led by Alexander, took a 6.57% stake in 888. The move by the group led by the former GVC chief executive officer sparked hope among 888 investors that Alexander’s involvement would spark a turnaround. Despite some controversies, Alexander is widely regarded as one of the godfathers of the modern sports wagering industry. Today, GVC is Entain Plc (OTC: GMVHY) — one of the world’s largest sportsbook operators.

However, it’s one of those controversies that could be putting 888 at risk of financial penalties and potential loss of its UK permit. The Great Britain Gaming Commission (GBGC) is scrutinizing Alexander’s involvement with 888 due to the supposedly questionable fashion in fashion in which GVC, under Alexander’s leadership, divested a Turkish business.

Soon before FS unveiled its investment in 888, Entain noted it could be in hot water due to an HMRC bribery investigation tied to the old Turkish operations.

888 Looking to Allay Regulators’ Concerns

About a week after its investment in 888 was revealed, FS Gaming presented a plan to the gaming company’s board under which Alexander would become chief executive officer. FS also told the board it wanted to install Stephen Morana as finance director and to replace 888 Executive Chairman Jonathan Mendelsohn with former GVC Chairman Lee Feldman.

888 acknowledged it held talks with FS regarding that proposal, but those discussions were scrapped as the gaming company seeks to cooperate with the GBGC and potentially avoid fines and save its UK license.

The GBGC has expressed its concern regarding the ongoing HMRC investigation into GVC’s activities covering the time the individuals proposed to the Board by FS Gaming were in senior leadership positions at GVC, and that it is in close dialogue with HMRC regarding its ongoing investigation,” according to an 888 statement. “The GBGC requested regular updates from 888 in relation to any new developments in the circumstances around FS Gaming and its Proposal so that it can fully execute its responsibilities as the GB regulator.”

888 is highly incentivized to work with the GBGC because as Investec analyst Roberta Ciaccia told the Evening Standard, the UK and Ireland accounted for 60% of the operator’s 2022 pro-forma earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA).

Next Steps for 888

888 has ended talks with FS and it’s expected that Alexander’s group will soon announce it’s no longer seeking board seats at the gaming company. That could assuage regulators and skittish investors.

Over the near-term, the William Hill parent gets back to the business of finding a new CEO and bolstering market share.

“While this engagement temporarily interrupted the very thorough search process to appoint a new CEO, the Board is finalising its appointment and expects to make an announcement in the very near future,” concluded Mendelsohn in the statement. “The Board remains firmly focused on delivering the Group’s clear strategy to unlock shareholder value and I’m pleased to confirm that the business remains on track to deliver market expectations for 2023 Adjusted EBITDA.”

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