* Company says discussions enter “a further stage”
* At least two bidders have declared interest in Bwin
* Company says margins better than expected, revenue down
* Shares rise as much as 6 percent (Adds analyst comment, details, background, share price)
By Esha Vaish
May 21 (Reuters) - Online gambling company Bwin.Party Digital Entertainment Plc, the subject of competing takeover bids, said it expects in coming weeks to “reach a conclusion” as discussions with suitors enter a new stage.
Bwin’s London-listed shares rose as much as 6 percent on Thursday after the company also reported better-than-expected margins for the first quarter, helped by careful cost management.
Higher taxes and tougher regulations in Britain and other big European markets have taken a toll on gambling companies and raised the possibility of consolidation in the industry.
Bwin, which put itself on the block last year, is at the centre of a takeover battle between at least two bidders: smaller peer 888 Holdings Plc and a partnership between GVC Holdings Plc and Canada’s Amaya Inc.
Neither party has disclosed the value of its bid. A source close to the matter told Reuters this week that the GVC-Amaya bid was around 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion).
Without disclosing the number or identity of the bidders, Bwin has said previously that it is in discussions with third parties. On Thursday, the company said these discussions are now entering “a further stage”.
“...The board expects to reach a conclusion over the coming weeks,” Bwin said in a statement.
Margins were a bright spot in the company’s results for the first quarter ended March 31, a period during which revenue fell 6 percent from a year earlier to 155.3 million euros.
“There is nothing in these results that I think would frighten off any potential suitors,” said Peel Hunt analyst Nick Batram.
“Perhaps, on the contrary, they might want to get their business done sooner rather than later - just in case this is the beginning of a recovery,” he said.
Shares of Bwin, which has been battling headwinds such as the decline of regulated poker markets in Europe, have risen more than 15 percent since their close last Thursday, the day before the company said it had received revised proposals.
Bwin, which was created by a merger of sports betting group bwin and online poker group PartyGaming in 2011, had a market capitalisation of about 850 million pounds ($1.32 billion) as of Wednesday’s close.
Its shares were among the top gainers on London’s FTSE-250 Midcap Index, trading up 5.3 percent at 108.9 pence as of 0900 GMT. ($1 = 0.6427 pounds) ($1 = 0.8959 euros) (Editing by Anupama Dwivedi and Robin Paxton)