Sazka Group to purchase Novomatic stake in Casinos Austria

10 December 2019

Pan-European lottery and sports betting group Sazka Group has agreed a deal to acquire Novomatic Group’s 17.19% stake in Casinos Austria (CASAG).

Though terms of the agreement have not been undisclosed, the deal will be subject to applicable regulatory conditions and notifications, as well as approval from other shareholders in CASAG.

Sazka Group said it will ensure Österreichische Beteiligungs (ÖBAG), a body that manages public investments in companies that play a key role in Austria, will have representation on the CASAG supervisory and executive boards.

Following the transaction, Novomatic will retain its 11% stake in Österreichische Lotterien, a subsidiary of CASAG.

The operator has been jointly controlled by Novomatic and Sazka since 2016, when the pair agreed "a strategic partnership of equals" to manage both CASAG and Österreichische Lotterien. However, each partner admitted that this structure has not produced the anticipated results.

“The previous ownership structure has not led to any satisfactory development of Casinos Austria, and as the smallest major shareholder, we have decided to sell our shares in order to give CASAG a clear and sustainable ownership structure so that the company can meet the long-term challenges of the national and international markets is prepared for global markets,” Novomatic chief executive Harald Neumann said.

Sazka Group chief executive Robert Chvatal added: “We are convinced that this is the best solution for the company. We want to secure stable and positive development for CASAG in a long-term partnership between its two largest shareholders.

“We are committed to working together with ÖBAG and the CASAG team to ensure sustainable development for the benefit of our customers, employees and business partners. We are prepared to focus on CASAG’s core business and bring innovation to market.”

The acquisition comes at an uncertain time for Casinos Austria after last month Austria’s leading gambling trade group called for an end to its monopoly in light of the political scandal currently engulfing the operator.

The Austrian Association for Betting and Gambling (OVWG) spoke out in response to an investigation into the relationship between Casinos Austria, its chief finance officer Peter Sidlo, who is also a Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) district councillor in Vienna, and Novomatic.

It was claimed that Sidlo’s appointment was linked to licence awards in Vienna, but Sidlo and Novomatic deny any wrongdoing.

Economic and Corruption Prosecutor's Office (WKStA) officers had carried out further raids as part of their investigation following on from initial searches back in August.

Casinos Austria has had a monopoly on casino operations in Austria since 2016, when three other operators had their licences revoked.

Aside from Casinos Austria, Sazka Group recently upped its stake in OPAP to almost 40% after the completion of an offer period during which it attempted to acquire all the Greek operator’s outstanding shares.

Sazka Group came to an agreement with around 7.25% of OPAP shareholders during the offer period, which concluded on 29 October. It owned around 33% of OPAP prior to the offer period having purchased a major stake in 2013 through venture Emma Delta when the operator was first privatised.

In total it has agreed to acquire 23,323,179 shares at €9.12 – amounting to €212.7m (£178.9m/$235.7m). It had earmarked €2.06bn for the total outstanding shares.