Friday, June 8, 2012 | 10:49 a.m.
CARSON CITY — Britain’s largest bookmaker on Thursday received preliminary approval from the state Gaming Control Board to buy three Nevada race and sports book operations in a $55 million deal.
William Hill will acquire American Wagering, the parent for Leroy’s Horse and Sports Place, Brandywine Bookmaking and the race and sports book at the Cal Neva Lodge in Reno.
The new owners said they do not intend to close any of the locations and plan to spend $3 million in improvements before the pro football season starts.
William Hill posted $441 million in profits last year. More than 90 percent of its business is in the United Kingdom.
Norman Topping, chief executive officer, said the company accepts 1 million wagers a day. The median wager is $5, he said. It has online betting operations in a number of countries outside the United Kingdom.
Board members were concerned that Playtech, a gaming software provider, has 29 percent interest in William Hill. A major shareholder in Playtech is Teddy Sagi, who owns 45 percent of the company.
Sagi was convicted some 20 years ago in Israel of securities fraud and bribery in an insider trading scam. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Topping said Sagi has no direct authority over the policies and decisions of William Hill, a publicly traded company.
Board members questioned Topping and others about online betting in Australia, where it is illegal for residents to place wagers. But company officials said operations there were halted.
Board Chairman Mark Lipparelli and member A.G. Burnett were unhappy that William Hill did not check out the local law before entering the market.
Lipparelli said William Hill was a “sophisticated and well-run” company. But he said the company has a policy of “open market to the world” without due diligence in checking the local laws.
He also said “some elements of Playtech are in question.”
Burnett said there are “several unknowns” about Playtech, and if that firm is found unsuitable by Nevada, William Hill “will have to take care of that,” apparently meaning a buyout.
William Hill executives said they have an option to buy out Playtech this year and next.
The application goes before the Nevada Gaming Commission for final action June 21 in Las Vegas.