Let the bidding begin! In the recent EIG 2007 i-Gaming conference, PartyGaming CEO Mitch Garber told a reporter from the Financial Times that the famous gaming group is open to approaches from Las Vegas based casinos regarding a possible sale.

After tantalizing the media by saying they would like to hear from the major players in Las Vegas, Garber started acting coy and refused to confirm if there were already talks in progress and who were the potential buyers. Competitor site 888.com had been previously rumored to have an interest in buying, but when approached by the Financial Times they refused to comment. All eyes are on the legendary Mirage and Bellagio casinos, and a PartyGaming source confirmed they were interested in talking with them.

The price tag will certainly be a hefty one, as Gibraltar-based PartyGaming is one of the major online gambling providers at the moment. Since its creation in 1997, PartyGaming has firmly established itself as a household name, diversifying into various brands and markets such as Party Poker, Party Casino, Party Gammon and Party Bets. In its heyday, it was said to be valued at up to $10 billion, but after withdrawing from the US market last year (because of UIGEA) the market cap at the moment is around $2.5 billion. The main source of income for PartyGaming is Party Poker, which generated around 80% of the group’s revenue in 2006.

If you have $3 billion to spare, these are some pros and cons you may want to consider before making your bid for PartyGaming:

– PartyGaming is based in Gibraltar and listed in the UK. The shares, called PRTY in the London Stock Exchange, have seen prices as high as 160p (around $3) before taking a plummet in October 2006. However, PartyGaming has targeted new markets and launched an extensive and successful marketing campaign that has managed to re-establish it as a solid company: in the last year the stock price has fluctuated between 22 and 60p ($0.50 to $1.3 approx.) and at the moment it sits smack in the middle at $32, with a healthy volume of trading every day. The company’s main shareholders include Deutsche Bank with 3.7%, Orbis Investment Management with 4.9% and Prudential with 3%.

– Since PartyGaming is listed in the UK, where online gambling is perfectly legal, it would give its new owner direct access into the growing European gambling market – an enticing prospect even for buyers who are not into gambling at the moment, such as Google and Virgin.

– It was recently reported that PartyGaming CEO Mitch Garber had sold some of his shares in the company, but it was also reported that he still holds more shares than he is committed to.

– Although PartyGaming withdrew quickly from the US market after the passing of UIGEA, they are still in talks with the US Department of Justice regarding their activities prior to withdrawal. Considering the heavy fines Neteller had to pay over similar issues, it may be necessary to wait for the outcome of these talks before proceeding with a sale or merger.

– With the UIGEA under fire this month from all sides, buying PartyGaming could be a winning gamble if the injunctions from IGREA, lobbying from the PPA or the WTO sanctions (or any combination of them!) succeed in bringing UIGEA down.

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