PokerStars deal: fish eats shark shock
June 2014 witnessed a strange phenomenon in nature when the little fish of Amaya Gaming turned round and gobbled up the great white shark of PokerStars.
But it is not quite right to say that Amaya now owns PokerStars because the majority of the whopping US$ 4.9 billion purchase price is being provided by debt financing i.e. borrowing money from banks. Amaya is putting up just US$ 238 million of its own money, less than 5% of the purchase price. Some US$ 2.8 billion is being provided in loans by a collection of banks and investment institutions.
So Amaya owns PokerStars in the same way that anyone with a mortgage owns their home. They don’t. The people that have lent you the money do.
And people have a habit of wanting their money back with interest. This puts immediate pressure on the new Amaya group business because there is a lot of debt to service.
One of the sources of PokerStars’ success was the fact that it was a debt-free privately held company. This meant it could take risks, operate in markets where others could not, or would not, and generally maintain the entrepreneurial atmosphere of what was a family-owned business away from the pressure of satisfying the City.
That has now changed. PokerStars, as part of the Amaya Gaming group, is now a publicly listed company with many shareholders and has taken on a substantial amount of debt.
As a result, there are some key questions to be answered:
• Will PokerStars be able to continue operating in all markets in which it operated as a private business?
• How will this hurt revenues?
• Can the prospect of getting involved in the US market again offset any lost revenues from markets it has to leave?
• How will the business cultures of Amaya and PokerStars get on?
• How much interference in PokerStars will there be by Amaya executives? Can it maintain its culture?
• How will the pressure to service the debt and please the financial community with the story of ever-growing revenues influence business decisions? Will investment in technology continue to enable PokerStars to stay ahead of the pack?
• Will PokerStars’ key executives remain with the company?
• How would you sum up Amaya and its business model in a sentence following the PokerStars deal?