David Baazov Proposes Private Takeover of Amaya and PokerStars
In mid-2014, Amaya Gaming bought PokerStars and Full Tilt in a deal worth $4.9 billion, changing the online poker industry forever. Soon, there could be another upheaval for the company, this one led by its CEO.
According to a press release and various news outlets, Amaya CEO David Baazov, “together with a group of investors with whom he is in discussions, intends to make an all-cash proposal to acquire Amaya at a purchase price presently estimated at CDN $21.00 per common share, representing a 40% premium to Friday’s closing price on the Toronto Stock Exchange.”
According to Reuters, Baazov’s takeover represents an all-cash deal valued at CDN $2.8 billion (USD $2.0 billion).
What Does This Mean for Players?
What does this mean for PokerStars and Full Tilt players? First, privatizing Amaya means one less level of bureaucracy, making the company nimbler and allowing it to change with the times faster. Whether that’ll be good or bad for players remains to be seen.
Second, privatization may make it easier for PokerStars and Full Tilt to expand into states and countries that regulate iPoker given Baazov and company can control who owns Amaya, ensuring “quality” shareholders exist.
Third and most importantly, privatization means management’s attention can shift from the company’s current stock price to its long-term goals. It can spend significant resources today at the expense of company value in the name of long-term growth. This could mean that high-stakes players could see a restoration of certain benefits, although no indication has been made. The company can also pursue acquisitions and business deals it couldn’t if it were publicly traded.
Amaya’s Stock Rises on Monday, Falls in 2015
The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol ‘AYA’. It closed on Friday at CDN $14.99 per share and there was no movement of the price on Monday. In New York City on the NASDAQ Stock Exchange, shares of Amaya were up USD $3.32 on Monday at the time of writing to $13.89 per share, an increase of over 30%. Amaya’s stock was at the low end of its 52-week NASDAQ range of $9.67 to $31.44.
In the last year, shares of Amaya in Toronto have plummeted from around CDN $33 to CDN $14.99, or by about half. In late 2014, shares of ‘AYA’ were fetching almost CDN $40 a pop.
Last November, shares of Amaya slid 28% after a warning that its 2015 revenues would likely be 11% to 14% lower than anticipated. The cause: strengthening of the US Dollar, which according to the Financial Times resulted in an “‘approximate 19% decline in the purchasing power of our customer base’ and which had had an impact ‘higher than we previously anticipated.'”
Amaya’s revenues from consumers are largely in Euros, which have become less valuable compared to its debt, which is in US Dollars.
No Formal Deal Proposed
The deal is still in its infancy, as the same press release said there were no formal discussions between the CEO and his company about an acquisition nor was there any “certainty that the proposed transaction will proceed or be consummated.”
Baazov owns 24.5 million shares of Amaya, or 18.6% of the company, and has an option to purchase 550,000 additional common shares. Amaya’s Lead Independent Director, Dave Gadhia, will oversee a special committee to review any offers that may come in.
Rough 2015 for Amaya
In October of last year, Amaya’s daily fantasy sports product, StarsDraft, banned real money play from all but four states following “a review of recent developments in a number of jurisdictions.” Although the company said the decision to scale back StarsDraft would not have “a negative financial impact,” the news was still a blow to Amaya’s potential expansion in the United States.
At the time, some had speculated that Amaya’s status as a publicly traded company was part of the reason, as it didn’t want to risk harm to its shareholders or share price by remaining in states it wasn’t sure that DFS was 100% permissible.
Additionally, because Amaya owns PokerStars, which is trying to expand in regulated markets in the US, it has a “fundamentally different risk/reward calculus than operators like FanDuel or DraftKings,” according to Legal Sports Report.
And as Reuters pointed out, that’s not the only lackluster news to come from the United States, as “a Kentucky court ordered the company to pay $870 million in penalties to cover alleged losses by the state’s residents who played real money poker on PokerStars’ website between 2006 and 2011.” That news came down in December, although Amaya is appealing.
High-stakes players have been enraged at Amaya and PokerStars after the online poker room slashed benefits last year. Two player-organized boycotts have already taken place.
Still, there’s a glimmer of hope. Last October, PokerStars received a transactional waiver to operate in New Jersey, which licenses and regulates internet gambling and online poker. No real money tables have come online, but New Jersey green-lighting PokerStars could boost the company’s chances of being licensed in other states given how thorough Garden State officials have been.
According to Online Poker Report, New Jersey’s investigation into Amaya was exhaustive. It included review of 45,000 pages of documents, 71 interviews, and Amaya’s 2014 records with the help of a consulting company.