Playtech offloads Plus500 stake for $228 million ahead of Italy buy

(Reuters) - Playtech said it has sold its 10 percent stake in retail online trading platform Plus500 for about 176 million pounds ($228 million) as it looks to refinance debt.

Founded by Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi, Playtech has sold the stake in Plus500 three years after pulling the plug on a $700 million takeover of the Haifa, Israel-based company, which has a 1.83 billion pound ($2.37 billion) market value.

Shares in Plus500 fell 5.3 percent to 1,522 pence at 0850 GMT on Friday on news of the sale by Playtech, which also owns world’s largest live casino studio in Latvia.

Playtech said in a statement it had sold 11.4 million ordinary shares at 1,550 pence-a-share in Plus500, which provides an online platform for retail investors to make bets on financial markets through contracts for differences.

Goodbody analysts said the stake sale comes as no surprise ahead of Playtech's upcoming refinancing of about 1 billion euros ($1.16 billion) of debt to fund its purchase of a stake in Italian betting and gaming firm Snaitech here.

The sale comes a day after a group of individual founding shareholders in Plus500 sold an 8 percent stake to a “small number of institutional investors”.

Playtech, which declined to comment, has issued two profit warnings this year due to lackluster Asian market growth.

Meanwhile, Plus500 has raised its full-year financial performance expectations twice since June, saying it benefited from increased volatility stemming from U.S. import tariffs and high levels of trading in cryptocurrencies.

British hedge fund manager Crispin Odey whose Odey Asset Management has a 2.1 percent direct stake in Playtech and 2.91 percent via contracts for difference, through two funds run by James Hanbury, is reported to have been in touch with U.S. activist investor Jason Ader who has built a $100 million stake.

Odey Asset Management’s Hanbury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ader's New York-based SpringOwl Asset Management is expected to press for asset sales, the Times reported here on Wednesday. SpringOwl was not immediately available for comment outside New York office hours.

($1 = 0.7729 pounds)

($1 = 0.8590 euros)

Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain and Justin George Varghese in Bengaluru and Maiya Keidan in London, additional reporting by Sangameswaran S in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham