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Last Updated: Friday, 7 October 2005, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Casino group Gala snaps up Coral
Coral betting shop
Coral Eurobet owns 1,260 shops
UK casino firm Gala is buying up Coral Eurobet for 2.18bn ($3.87bn), in a move which will create Europe's biggest privately-owned gaming group.

Gala's casinos and bingo halls will be merged with Coral's betting shops and dog tracks.

The enlarged empire will be worth more than 4bn, with more than 2.2 million customers visiting 1,450 outlets.

Gala chief executive Neil Goulden said betting and bingo would benefit from deregulation.

Both firms also have a strong presence on the internet, which Mr Goulden said would be the biggest advantage of merging.

"We are going to combine their Eurobet business with our fledgling interactive business - internet, TV and telephone betting," said Mr Goulden.

'Competitive threat'

Additionally, casinos will soon be allowed to advertise and stringent membership rules will be loosened.

"This is a great vehicle to take advantage of deregulation, with a full suite of assets that will benefit," said analysts Robin Chhabra at Evolution Securities.

"It is a competitive threat to other players like William Hill and Rank, but it's only mildly negative for them."

Coral is 16%-owned by management and 84%-owned by buy-out firm Charterhouse, having been previously owned by Ladbrokes and Morgan Grenfell private equity.

In August this year it announced it was considering a stock market flotation but did not rule out a sale at the time.

Since Charterhouse backed the management buy-out in 2002 Coral's annual operating profits have more than doubled to 145m on sales of 5.4bn.

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