Internet betting group Sportingbet has confirmed its approach of online poker and casino promoter Empire Online Ltd. for a bid of £790 million ($1.5 billion).
Sportingbet, owners of Paradise Poker, have admitted that discussions are in the early stages and no deals have been signed. Regardless, their announcement sparked talk of an impending bidding war between Sportingbet and PartyGaming, one of Empire's largest clients. Empire Online is the industry's leading poker 'skin', directing online player traffic to various gambling sites, the bulk of which constitute online poker sites including PartyGaming's site, PartyPoker, and 888.com.
Indeed, this deal could have dire implications for PartyGaming: It is thought that Empire is responsible for at least 10% of PartyGaming's new players, with Empire attracting new players to PartyGaming's network faster than any other poker 'skin' and faster than PartyGaming itself. A takeover by Sportingbet would re-direct traffic from Empire's current clients, making Paradise Poker the second largest poker site on the Internet. As such, industry analysts are expecting PartyGaming to launch a couter-offer in an effort to cement PartyPoker's position as the dominant poker site in the online gaming industry.
Empire Online was founded in 1998 by Israeli businessman Noam Lanir. The company makes its money by collecting commission from operators of the games it refers its players too. Currently, Empire Online accounts for 9% of the entire Internet poker market.