William Hill is set to return to British ownership after online bookmaker 888 won a bidding war to take control of the European and UK assets of 87-year-old company.

London-listed 888 Holdings confirmed last week that Caesars Entertainment, the US-based casino group had agreed to the sale of the international (non-US) business of William Hill in a deal worth £2.2 billion. Last Thursday 888 said investors holding 47% of the company’s shares had already approved the deal, either with expression of support or irrevocable undertakings.

The agreement follows the £2.9 billion takeover of William Hill by Las Vegas-based Caesars Entertainment last year. At the time of that acquisition, the world-famous casino operator made clear that it only wanted to keep William Hill’s US business as it sought to compete in the fast-growing American sports-betting market against the likes of DraftKings and Flutter Entertainment. William Hill’s 1,400 betting shops in the UK and European casino operations were soon put up for sale.

The fight to acquire William Hill’s UK and European assets had been a three horse race over the last few months, with analysts initially estimating the sale price between £1.2 billion and £1.5 billion. However, buyout firm CVC Capital Partners dropped out the race last month, and with the highest offer on the table according to a report in the Financial Times, 888’s £2.2 billion bid was successful.

As an online-only operator, 888 has had a strong last 18 months, boosted by gambling’s shift online during repeated lockdowns, which is in stark contrast to operators of physical betting shops like William Hill, which have seen their premises closed for much of the same period. A number of analysts had predicted that 888 would attempt to sell on William Hill’s 1,400 high street betting shops to BetFred in order to focus on the online market, but the company has made clear that it has no intention of selling the bricks and mortar business.

888 chief executive Itai Pazner said: “We did see interest in the retail [estate]from the outside but we feel that the retail is an integral part of the William Hill asset.”

888’s main focus is casino games and slots games, but it does already have its own sports betting platform, 888Sport. However, the acquisition of William Hill’s history, name recognition, and customer base would turn 888 into one of the UK’s largest online bookies almost overnight, with access to thousands of new customers.

William Hill was founded in 1934 and was an early mover online, launching its first web-based sports betting platform in 1998. With its legacy high street shops, the company has struggled to compete in the UK against leaner more online-focused operators like Bet365, but its success in the nascent US market had made it a takeover target.

888 was founded in 1997 by two sets of Israeli brothers, the Shakeds and the Ben-Yitzhaks, and listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2005.

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