Both the sitting and former CEOs at Playtech have alleged that Australian gambling firm Aristocrat Leisure and its advisory team ran a misinformation campaign to shield its offer for the UK-based gaming group. The executives have accused Aristocrat of sowing suspicions regarding an Asian faction of investors.
The Storm after the Calm
Up until now, Playtech’s former CEO, Tom Hall, had held his tongue, sharing none of his thoughts around the pitched acquisition bidding battle that raged in October 2021.
Media reports began popping up in early 2022, surmising that a group of Asia-based investors had been influenced by Hall to collectively block Aristocrat’s bid for Playtech.
These allegations emerged from a report by a private investigations company and caught the attention of the UK’s Takeover Panel which launched an inquiry into the process.
Hall, who was Playtech’s chief executive from 2003 to 2005, refuted the allegations, calling them “rubbish”. He shared that, in his communications with the Takeover Panel, several falsehoods regarding important details in the report had come to light.
“As I explained to the Takeover Panel, I said I had never heard of, spoken to these people or their advisers,” Hall explained in an interview with the Financial Times. He added that other information provided to the panel, including that regarding the timing of his purchase of Playtech stock, was also erroneous.
Mor Weizer who is the current CEO at Playtech confirmed that the failure of Aristocrat’s bid could have been caused by “other UK-based tier-one institutions, certain former employees of the company including certain people that are still involved with the company” who shared the belief that Aristocrat’s offer was inadequate.
Playtech, a back-end software provider to some of the biggest gambling companies across the globe, has been relatively inert in the recent industry-wide race to consolidate as operators sought to overcome a wave of tightening regulations in key global markets and to exploit the opening up of the US and Latin American markets for legalised wagering.
Aristocrat received initial interest from TTB Partners, an affiliate of Playtech’s second-largest shareholder and Eddie Jordan, the former F1 boss.
Once the company’s board approved the 680p per share offer, Aristocrat noted that numerous investors began buying Playtech stock at over 700p per share, causing the slot machine manufacturer to suspect that a conspiracy had been formed against its bid.
Among those who acquired or increased their stakes are Paul Suen, a Chinese businessman known to have funded Birmingham City Football Club and the previous owner of Wigan Athletic, Stanley Choi. The regulatory filings also revealed purchases made by Dublin and Isle of Man-based investors.
The aforementioned report mentioned casts suspicion on some Hong Kong-based investors, alleging that they may have links to organised crime. Aristocrat has declined to offer any official response on the matter.
Hall, who is currently occupied with orchestrating a management buyout of Playtech, shared records of his transactions in Playtech shares for the past 3 years as well as any contact he had made with Playtech shareholders with the Takeover Panel. He further revealed that he owns 1.34% of the company.
According to reports from an individual close to the investigation, the panel was unable to identify any evidence that any Hong Kong-based investors addressed were working in collusion.
Hall stated that he had been opposed to Aristocrat and JKO Play’s plans to break up Playtech if they acquired the company and that after the bidding process had collapsed, he began discussions with previous bidder, TTB.
He stated that he had approached Weizer earlier in 2022 to help ease Playtech’s introduction to the newly burgeoning US market. Weizer holds personal licenses across several US states that aided Playtech’s latest launches in Michigan and New Jersey.
The current CEO admitted that the failure of the bid could end in his resignation after 17 years with the firm.
“I understand the consequences and I understand they are also quite dire if it doesn’t happen but at least I tried to do what is best for everyone involved,” he said.
The two industry heavyweights, with support from TTB and a couple of major UK and US financial institutions, have pledged that they will soon be tabling an offer to Playtech’s board that surpasses Aristocrat’s.