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HomeGamblingiGamingA Complete Overview of iGaming Acquisitions in the 21st Century

A Complete Overview of iGaming Acquisitions in the 21st Century

iGaming Acquisitions
Image by jemastock on Freepik

The rise of the internet in the late 20th century revolutionised countless industries, and gambling was no exception. In the mid-90s, we started to see casinos and poker rooms slowly become available, and by the early 2000s, the outline of an industry was forming, with key players consolidating power. In the decades since, the industry has witnessed explosive growth, fierce competition, and a flurry of strategic acquisitions. 

We can now track every iGaming merger and acquisition thanks to extensive research by the award-winning affiliate Bojoko.com. They have combed through all available data since the first iGaming acquisition in 2001 to present an easily digestible library of deals. The data makes all the major M&As available by year and closely examines the 10 biggest acquisitions of all time. 

Based on this data, we can see how the iGaming landscape has changed. In this article, we will highlight the key insights we were able to extract, which paint a very clear picture of the industry’s journey from the turn of the millennium to the present.

A Slow Start

The first recorded iGaming acquisition occurred in 2001 when Sportingbet acquired Sportbook.com for 51 million dollars. Further acquisitions would not be recorded until 2003.

These early purchases often focused on gaining technology and platforms to offer online poker, casino games, and sports betting. While the first decade of the 2000s saw the first billion-dollar deal when Lottomatica acquired GTECH for over $4b, the annual number of deals stayed in the single digits throughout the decade.

Some early movers sought to expand their market reach or acquire technology through strategic acquisitions. For example, larger operators might acquire smaller competitors or technology providers to gain new gaming software, enter new markets, or consolidate their positions in existing ones.

The early 2000s were a period of exploration and foundation-building in the iGaming industry. Companies navigated a nascent market characterised by technological limitations and regulatory uncertainties. However, this period set the foundation for a multi-billion-dollar industry.

Period of Consolidation

As the industry matured in certain regions, particularly in Europe, a wave of consolidation occurred. Larger companies began acquiring smaller competitors to expand their market share and diversify product offerings.

Clearer regulatory frameworks emerged in various jurisdictions, like the UK, and technological innovations enabling a more engaging user experience marked a shift within the industry. By integrating smaller companies, larger firms could access new customer bases and technologies.

Acquisitions helped companies diversify offerings and solidify positions in the industry’s traditional and digital spheres. Operators like Betsson, Unibet (Kindred Group), 888, Entertain (previously GVC Holdings), and others began a series of acquisitions to reinforce their market position. By acquiring smaller competitors and related businesses, they were able to become giants of the industry rapidly.

We saw the same scenario play out in the affiliate world with Catena Media and GIG standing for a large number of acquisitions in the mid-late 10s. This competition has quieted since GIG acquired a large portion of the former. However, new competition came in the form of Better Collective, which also acquired shares in what remains of Catena Media.

In the world of online game developers, Light & Wonder, previously named Scientific Games, has become the most prolific. Their acquisition of Bally Technologies for over $5 billion in 2014 still stands as the biggest game developer acquisition to date. This was after they had already consolidated a significant portion of power by acquiring WMS for 1.5 billion in 2013. They have continued to take over large developers, including NYX in 2018 and SciPlay (remaining shares) in 2023, showing that they are not going anywhere.

Technological Innovation Through Acquisitions

The strategic moves listed in Bojoko’s research redefined the paths of the entities involved and impacted the industry as a whole. Playtech’s acquisition of Snaitech for $1.05b in 2018 exemplifies how companies have leveraged acquisitions to drive technological innovation. By integrating Snaitech’s sports betting and gaming terminal technologies, Playtech expanded its footprint in the Italian market and enriched its overall technology portfolio.

Two years later, in 2020, Evolution Gaming made a significant strategic move by acquiring NetEnt for $2.1b. Evolution Gaming, known for its live dealer games, aimed to enhance its slot offerings and digital footprint by acquiring NetEnt, a leading provider of slot games and RNG (random number generator) titles. This acquisition allowed Evolution to integrate NetEnt’s advanced slot technologies and innovative game mechanics, significantly boosting its portfolio and technological prowess.

An earlier example of a similar move was Scientific Games’ Acquisition of NYX Gaming Group for CAD 775m in 2018. This acquisition aimed to expand Scientific Games’ digital gaming and online sports betting capabilities. By acquiring NYX, Scientific Games enhanced its portfolio of services and technologies and significantly improved its position in the rapidly growing online sports betting market. Integrating NYX’s sports betting platforms and content with Scientific Games’ existing lottery and gaming systems created a comprehensive package that covered a wide range of iGaming and betting solutions.

Geographic Expansion

The acquisition of bwin. party by GVC Holdings (now Entain) in 2016 is a notable example of using M&A strategies for geographic expansion. This acquisition allowed GVC to significantly increase its presence in regulated European markets, showcasing how strategic acquisitions can overcome the challenges of market entry and regulatory compliance, facilitating rapid expansion.

2020 saw a massive merger as Flutter Entertainment purchased all of the shares in The Stars Group to create a combined operation. The acquisition was primarily aimed at geographic expansion, significantly enhancing Flutter’s global footprint across key regulated markets, including the UK, Australia, and the United States. Combining Flutter’s strong sports betting operations with TSG’s leading poker platforms and casino products, the merged entity gained a diversified portfolio and access to a broader customer base across more jurisdictions.

In 2018, William Hill, a UK-based bookmaker, acquired MRG, the parent company of the online casino brand Mr Green, to expand its digital footprint and establish a more pronounced presence in Europe. The acquisition was part of William Hill’s strategy to reduce its reliance on the UK market and to create a more comprehensive pan-European footprint. By acquiring MRG, William Hill gained access to new markets in Europe and leveraged MRG’s online casino technologies and expertise to enhance its online offerings.

These examples showcase the effectiveness of acquisitions in achieving geographic expansion. Several iGaming companies have successfully used acquisitions to enter new geographic markets and comply with local regulations more efficiently. Acquiring companies with existing licenses and operational capabilities in new jurisdictions is a quick and efficient strategy for expansion.

The Present and Future of the iGaming Industry

As the iGaming industry marches into the future, the trends observed over the past two decades offer valuable insights into its trajectory. The biggest iGaming acquisitions and mergers have profoundly impacted the industry, and this strategy will undoubtedly remain a key tool for companies. We have witnessed massive billion-dollar deals annually since Bally Technologies acquired SHFL Entertainment for £1.3b in 2013.

The rate of iGaming M&As does not seem to be slowing down any time soon. On the contrary, we may see even bigger deals accelerating in the 2020s. The scale of these transactions could surpass those seen in previous years as companies strive to adapt to the rapidly changing landscape and enter new markets.

The focus on technological innovation, regulatory compliance, and global expansion remains paramount, with companies continuously seeking acquisitions that can enhance their competitive edge and operational efficiency. The rise of responsible gambling practices and the industry’s commitment to sustainable and ethical growth are also shaping acquisition trends.

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