If you look up the word persistent in the dictionary, you might see a photo of David Baazov. The big news in the online gaming world on Monday was the big story that David Baazov made an offer to buy PokerStars for $6.7 billion. This offer comes a couple of weeks after a potential deal with British bookmaker William Hill fell apart. There were rumors that another online gaming company was interested in acquiring PokerStars, but a legit offer never came to fruition.
According to an article in Forbes, "Baazov made a bid to buy Amaya that values the company at $6.7 billion, saying the offer was fully financed, and not subject to financial conditions or due diligence. Baazov offered to pay $24 Canadian dollars per common share (around $17.71 U.S.) and put up $200 million that Amaya needs in February to make a $400 million scheduled payment to the previous owners of PokerStars, mostly billionaire Mark Scheinberg."
Reuters reported, "Baazov, who already owns about 17.2 percent of Amaya, including options, said he made the offer on behalf of a to-be-formed entity led by him. The offer including debt and transaction costs is valued at $6.7 billion, Amaya said in a regulatory filing. The equity portion of the deal would be $4.1 billion and will be mostly financed by four funds, which have committed $3.65 billion and Baazov's shares."
Baazov made a name for himself early in his career for his ability to cull together funding for massive deals. His under-the-radar company based out of Montreal sort of came out of nowhere in 2014 when he ponied up the money to buy PokerStars (and FullTilt) for nearly $5 billion. To pull off the sale, Baazov put together some fat financing backed by numerous Wall Street banks and hedge funds including the prestigious Blackstone Group.
The transaction went through without any problems, but Montreal's version of the Securities and Exchange (SEC) called the Autorité de Marchés Financiers flagged some investors in Amaya stock. The regulators in Quebec charged Baazov with insider trading. Baazov denied any wrong doing but was forced out, although the official story said he was on an "indefinite paid leave of absence." Amid the insider-trading scandal, Amaya's stock tanked and dropped almost 40%.
On the other side of the virtual felt, the players were feeling the corporate crunch. A small group of pros who had earned Supernova Elite status launched a boycott after PokerStars amended their player loyalty programs. Amaya instituted a series of unpopular changes that was supposed to maintain the health of the overall poker ecosystem. The suits had no qualms about alienating some of their top players because they saw the financial benefit over the long haul. The family-run vibe of PokerStars went out the front door as corporate overlords took over and tried to squeeze every cent out of PokerStars and its verticals. Online poker numbers have been steady, but nothing compared to the increases in casino gaming, which is why the casino and sportsbetting side of their operations have been getting extra special attention.
In the second half of 2016, Amaya felt like a despertae father trying to marry off his eldest daughter. Amaya had been welcoming suitors and ironically Baazov was one of the first in line to buy back the company with his own money. William Hill showed some moderate interest, but in October one of the main investors in the British bookmaker balked at acquiring PokerStars. GVC Holdings, the owner of bwin, also showed some buyout interest but the discussions never evolved into anything of substance.
Enter Baazov on stage left. Take two! Baazov was aware that Amaya has a looming $400 million payment to Mark Scheinberg, one of the original owners of PokerStars in early 2017. To sweeten the deal, Baazov offered to pay $200 million of that obligation. Baazov said he'd put up the stake he already owns and has the financing in place to complete the transaction. So now it comes down to this... does Amaya have anyone else they can sell the company to? And if not, will they hold off for a suitor down the road, or will they finally give in and sell PokerStars to Baazov? Stay tuned.