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Playtech’s Hong Kong connection stokes counterbid speculation

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Playtech: luck of the draw

A potential £3bn bid battle for gambling software group Playtech has drawn the attention of one of Hong Kong’s most venturesome investors.

Paul Suen Cho Hung, a Chinese-born businessman best known for floating Birmingham City Football Club in Hong Kong, has swept the London market to build a 3.66 per cent stake in Playtech. He began buying the stock after the company last month agreed to a takeover offer from Australian slot machine maker Aristocrat Leisure, then stopped immediately before Playtech revealed it had also received an approach from its second-biggest shareholder, Gopher Technologies. Regulatory filings show Suen paid as much as 720p per share, a generous premium over the 680p Aristocrat has offered.

Playtech has a business relationship with Les Ambassadeurs, the Mayfair private casino Suen bought in 2017 for $320m then agreed to sell for £130m less than two years later. That deal collapsed in March 2020 after the buyer, Imagi, a Hong Kong-listed animation studio and financial services group, paid a £12.8m break fee to walk away.

Les Ambassadeurs has since launched an online casino that runs on Playtech software. Though the site has yet to gain much traction — web analytics service Semrush estimates 1,200 unique visitors last month — Playtech considered the contract significant enough to flag in its half-year results in September.

Later that month Playtech agreed to sell its financial trading division to Gopher, which calls itself an affiliate of Hong Kong asset manager TT Bond Partners. Gopher opened talks with Playtech about a full takeover on October 21, three days after Aristocrat revealed its agreement and three days before Suen started buying.

City Insider was unable to reach Suen for comment. A woman answering the phone number on his UK shareholder registration documents would say only that it was the wrong number.

Eigen: go west

The City is losing one of its few prospective fintechs. Eigen Technologies is moving headquarters from London to New York ahead of a private fundraising that is expected to value the document processing specialist at between $500m and $1bn.

Blame Brexit, said Eigen’s co-founder and chief executive Lewis Z Liu, who developed ways to sift unstructured data while at Oxford university. The next generation of fintech and deeptech pioneers “are all freaking out about European Union funding being pulled”, he said. “Almost all of our PhDs were funded by the EU. I don’t think the government has really figured out a way to bridge that gap.”

Liu also complains of British hesitancy, saying American banks are far more willing to experiment with digital technologies. The UK Big Four lenders have all rejected using artificial intelligence for managing Libor transition, he said, adding: “It has been bad for our sales people’s morale.”

Tim Draper: esprit sans corps

Molten Ventures is the new name for Draper Esprit, the London-listed venture capital firm. “The name was inspired by the natural process of state change, by which matter is transformed via the injection of energy — the first transformation is from solid to molten form,” Molten said by way of explanation.

Rebranding also distances Molten from Silicon Valley veteran Tim Draper, who gave his name to the company in 2015 when Esprit joined the Draper Venture Network investment collective. Not that he cares much. “Seems like an upgrade to me,” Draper said of the new name.

Draper is no longer involved in the day-to-day running of Molten but he played down suggestions of a formal separation. “Once publicly listed [in 2016], the team moved away from the model we pioneered with the Draper Venture Network, so it was appropriate for them to strike a new brand,” he said. “Our relationship with Molten is as strong as ever, and we continue to share deal flow, best practices and corporate contacts.”

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