Competition regulator delays Stars’ Sky Bet takeover

CMA tells companies to stop further integration as order is issued


The Stars Group has been told to hit the pause button on its $4.7bn (£3.6bn/€4bn) acquisition of Sky Betting and Gaming (SBG) by the UK’s competition watchdog.

PokerStars’ owner’s multi-billion-dollar takeover of one of the UK’s most popular sports betting and online casino sites and its parent company was finalised earlier this week. As Stars completed the purchase from CVC Capital Partners and Sky PLC it said it had now formed “the world's largest publicly listed online gaming company”.

However, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has now issued an Initial Enforcement Order, instructing the two companies not to integrate further. They have been ordered to take no action that could “otherwise impair the ability of the Sky Betting & Gaming group business or the Stars business to compete independently in any of the markets affected by the transaction”.

The enforcement order issued by the body said that the watchdog was considering further actions under sections 22 and 33 of the Enterprise Act 2002 that are related to merger and acquisition deals resulting in a substantial decrease of the competition in a certain sector of the economy.

An Initial Enforcement Order is the most preliminary step that the CMA could take, coming ahead of a more formal Phase One investigation – which, for example, was announced when Ladbrokes and Coral signalled their intention to merge in 2016. While the CMA became involved in the Ladbrokes Coral merger at an early stage, its involvement in Stars’ acquisition of SBG following the financial completion of the deal is not considered unusual.

The CMA would not confirm to whether specific concerns have been raised about the deal by other parties.

Among a series of orders, Stars and SBG have been told that all of their individual assets should be maintained and preserved, there should be no integration of information technology and no changes are to be made to key staff at either business.

The CMA said the chief executive of both entities must provide a statement confirming compliance with the order every two weeks from July 24.

In announcing the completion of the deal earlier this week, Stars said it “dramatically improves The Stars Group's revenue diversity, creating a balanced spread across poker, casino and sportsbook with a broad geographic reach.”

"This acquisition represents a pivotal moment in The Stars Group's evolution," said CEO Rafi Ashkenazi in a statement.