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Nevada regulators recommend approval for British bookmaker William Hill

William Hill PLC, a British land-based and online bookmaker, was recommended on Thursday by state gaming regulators to receive its license to operate three race and sports book companies as well as mobile wagering apps in Nevada.

The recommendation by the three-member Gaming Control Board means William Hill is one-step closer to completing its acquisition of American Wagering Inc., which operates Leroy’s Horse & Sports Place.

The gaming company is also purchasing Brandywine Bookmaking LLC, parent of Lucky’s sports book, and Club Cal Neva Satellite Race and Sports Book division in Northern Nevada. William Hill spent more than $53 million in 2011 to acquire three Nevada companies.

"We’re elated that the Gaming Control Board were all in favor of having our application move forward," John English, senior vice president business development and public affairs with American Wagering, said in a phone interview Thursday following a three-hour hearing in Carson City.

English said the board’s approval "marks the start of a great future for William Hill in the state of Nevada." He said William Hill looks forward to its hearing in Las Vegas with the Nevada Gaming Commission.

The Nevada Gaming Commission on June 21 will take up the recommendation. If approved, William Hill will control 55 percent of the sports betting market in Nevada.

James Henderson, director of retail operations, said the company will consolidate all three companies, 164 sports books and kiosks and online and mobile operations under the William Hill brand.

He expected consolidating operations, without staff layoffs, to create a "single, viable business."

William Hill has set aside $10 million to expand and refurbish its Nevada holdings, should it be licensed. Joe Asher was named CEO and Vic Salerno will be chairman and chief technology officer of William Hill’s Nevada subsidiary, William Hill U.S. Holdco Inc.

"We see a huge opportunity to grow these businesses," Henderson said.

Nevada regulators spent some time questioning William Hill officials about their partnership with Playtech Ltd. The Israeli software company was founded by Teddy Sagi, a Tel Aviv-born businessman who was convicted of fraud and bribery in 1996.

CEO Ralph Topping said Sagi, who owns 45 percent of Playtech, owns his shares through a family trust and has no role in day-to-day operations of the online gaming business, known as William Hill Online.

William Hill owns 71 percent of the online business, while Playtech holds a 29 percent stake. Topping said their agreement gave William Hill the opportunity in December and again in 2014 to buy out Playtech’s stake in the company.

Chairman Mark Lipparelli, along with board members A.G. Burnett and Shawn Reid, also expressed concern about Rob Chhabra, who worked on the Nevada acquisitions, and its recent decision to close its business in Australia.

William Hill officials admitted they decided to shut down their Australian gaming operations after Nevada investigators questioned if the company was in violation of the country’s Interactive Gaming Act of 2001. The law makes it illegal to provide casino and poker games to Australian residents.

Australian regulators never fined the company. Chhabra, a former equity analyst, was fined approximately $150,000 by the Financial Services Authority after he "passed confidential information" to a friend, The Guardian newpaper in London reported.

Lipparelli said he had "no concerns or doubts about William Hill’s ability to come to Nevada and operate."

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