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Desmond says Ladbrokes backing wrong horse in Coral deal

Ladbrokes flickrDermot Desmond, the billionaire Irish tyoon who controls Celtic football club, has urged shareholders in Ladbrokes to reject the £2 billion merger with rival bookmaker Coral.

Mr Desmond, who owns between 1% and 2% of Ladbrokes, has written to other shareholders describing the proposed tie-up as “the wrong deal” and “the death of Ladbrokes” as an independent company.

He attacked John Kelly — who will be chairman of the combined business — for an “abject” performance as chairman of Gala Coral, and Ladbrokes chairman Peter Erskine for leading the bookmaker down a “disastrous path”

Mr Desmond believes that the loss of profit from up to 1,000 betting shops the new company may be forced to sell would outweigh any benefit from cost savings, said to be £65m.

Under the terms of the proposed deal Ladbrokes gets 51.75% of the shares, but its shares have suffered since July, taking the combined group’s market value down from £2.3bn to £2.1bn.

Mr Desmond claims the “real winners in this transaction are the Coral shareholders” and goes on to add: “Make no mistake – this is a zero premium acquisition of Ladbrokes by Coral.”

He claims that while investors in the private Coral group would be able to trade their shares and receive “significant relief from a £2.2 billon debt burden”, Ladbrokes shareholders would be “saddled with gearing multiples 50 per cent higher than the current level”.

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