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William Hill bet pays off

UK betting shops have been busy during the World Cup, helping to attract investors to William Hill's stock offering
UK betting shops have been busy during the World Cup, helping to attract investors to William Hill's stock offering  

LONDON, England -- UK bookmaker William Hill defied weak stock markets with an initial public share offering that attracted strong investor demand amid a World Cup betting frenzy.

William Hill shares jumped more than 7 percent to 241 pence at the start of "conditional" trading, which allows financial institutions and market makers the opportunity to establish a market in its shares before full trading begins later this week, on the London Stock Exchange.

The shares -- which were priced at 225 pence each could have sold 10-times over due to the strong demand, according to the investment banks selling the stock on behalf of William Hill -- slipped to 237 pence by mid-morning.

William Hill's stock market debut follows hot on the heels of a number of recent unsuccessful flotations.

"It's quite an achievement,'' Eric More, senior investment manager at Gartmore Investment Management, told Reuters. "It shows that with a decent business and sensible banking there is still interest in new issues.''

At the selling price the business was valued at 949 million ($1.4 billion). The company said it would use 340 million of the money raised to buy more betting shops and pay down debt.

William Hill has more than 1,500 shops in the UK and is the country's second largest bookmaker after Hilton Group's Ladbrokes.

Private equity owners Cinven and CVC Capital Partners had a 90 percent stake in William Hill before the IPO. They now have a 27 percent stake in the bookmaker but that could fall to 18 percent in the coming weeks if they exercise an option to sell more shares.

Bookmakers have been experiencing brisk business since the start of the World Cup football tournament. They have also benefitted from a relaxation of gambling rules in the UK.

However, the IPO market has been struggling in the past year with equity markets tumbling as the global economic downturn took hold.

HMV Group (HMV) -- the UK's biggest music, video and book retailer -- made a disappointing debut on the LSE earlier this year, despite selling it shares at a lower price than analysts had forecasted. IT services group Detica (DCA) also struggled after its IPO.

However, Punch Taverns -- the UK's second biggest pub operator -- managed a strong initial listing after first pulling its IPO and reoffering it at a lower price.

Still to go public are UK directories company Yell, Spanish gas distributor Enegas and Italian fashion group Prada.


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