Sazka Hires New CFO

Sazka Group, a pan-European lottery, and sports betting group, has announced that a new chief financial officer has been brought in to the company. Kenneth Morton is the newly appointed CFO and will begin his new role at the company on the 1st of February this year.

A woman sat at a slot machine in a casino.

The lottery and betting group, Sazka, has announced the appointment of its new chief financial officer, Kenneth Morton. ©JESHOOTS-com/Pixabay

Morton is joining from the private investment group KKCG. In his previous job, he was working for the company as the head of corporate finance.

Before working at KKCG, Morton worked as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley and Deutsche Bank in London, Hong Kong, and Moscow. He also worked in corporate finance at Thames Water. Robert Chvatal, chief executive at Sazka said:

“I am delighted to welcome Kenneth to the Sazka Group team; we have worked together extensively on some of Sazka Group’s most important initiatives since he joined KKCG, and his banking and international experience will be valuable assets as we execute our business and financial strategies”

The man Morton is replacing is Peter Stohr. Stohr will remain at Sazka until March, however, to help assist with the transition. Chvatal added:

“I would like to warmly thank Peter for his commitment and extremely valuable contribution to the development of SAZKA Group over the past five years, helping us to grow the company to scale, ensuring its financial stability and most recently entering in international capital markets. After EMMA Capital exited the group in 2019, Peter is now re-joining EMMA Capital as one of its partners and we wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Sazka’s OPAP Offer

During his time at KKCG, Morton worked on several projects that involved Sazka. One such project was its voluntary tender offer for shares in OPAP. The gaming and lottery giant pot forward an offer of €2.06bn to gain full control of the Greek gaming operator OPAP in July of 2019.

The tender offer was priced at €9.12 per share and Sazka was seeking to acquire 67% of the shares in the company. Sazka already holds a 33% stake in OPAP, albeit indirectly, through Emma Delta, a business that Sazka is the majority shareholder of with 66.7% of shares.

This offer also included any new OPAP shares that may be issued as the result of a dividend reinvestment program that was given the green light at the Greek operator’s 2019 Annual General Meeting in May.

“We are confident that thanks to our ongoing support and active engagement in the business we have helped to deliver significant value to all the shareholders of OPAP,” Sazka chairman, Karel Komárek, said.

“Since May 1, 2013, the day of the announcement of the privatization of OPAP, OPAP shareholders have enjoyed a total shareholder return of over 130% including over €1.4 billion of aggregate dividends paid. We are now seeking to increase our shareholding in OPAP and want to give existing shareholders an opportunity to realize value accumulated over the years.”Karel Komárek, Chairman Sazka Group

In October of 2019, Sazka Group came to an agreement with about 7.25% of OPAP shareholders at the end of an offer period which concluded on the 29th of October.

This increased the total amount of shares owned by Sazka to nearly 40%. In total the betting group agreed to acquire 23,323,279 shares at €9.12; a total of €212.7m.

The company will now hold (directly or indirectly) 128,593,179 shares in OPAP. When shares bought back by the company (treasury shares) are included in this figure, it amounts to 39.98% of OPAP’s share capital and voting rights.

“We are pleased to have been able to substantially increase our shareholding in OPAP through the tender offer,” Komarek said.

“Our ultimate goal is to over time acquire a majority ownership stake in OPAP. We look forward to being co-investors with those shareholders who did not tender their shares and we are pleased that they have chosen to stay with us as we work to ensure that OPAP continues to deliver on its exciting strategy.”

Other Recent CFO Turnover

The appointment of Morton as CFO at Sazka is the latest of several major senior financial executive moves in the gambling industry.

In January of 2020, William Hill announced that Ruth Prior is due to step down as its CFO. This is because she plans to take up the same role with Elements Materials Technology in the private sector.

Prior’s contract requires her to give a 12 month notice period and as such, her departure date will be determined in the coming weeks.

Prior joined William Hill in October 2017 as a member of the board and group executive team, Prior had a major role in several initiatives that were designed to be transformative. She was also responsible for group assurance and procurement functions.

“I am very appreciative of Ruth’s support and professionalism since I took on the role as CEO. She has supported the business during what has been a period of unprecedented change for the sector and we would like to thank her for all she has done for William Hill.” Ulrik Bengtsson, the William Hill CEO said.

In addition to this, the operator 888 announced that Aviad Kobrine, its long-serving CFO, will step down from the position that he has held for the past 15 years.

Similarly, it is not known when Kobrine will leave the position, but it has been confirmed that he will remain in the role until a successor has been found.

Kobrine joined the operator in 2004 just before 888’s initial public offering (IPO) and took on the role of CFO in June of 2005. According to 888, Kobrine has played a major role in the operator’s progress and growth during his time as CFO.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the fantastic team at 888 with whom I have had the pleasure and honor of working over the last 15 years,” Kobrine said. “I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved together throughout my time with the business.

888’s chairman Brian Mattingley said Kobrine had “made a truly outstanding contribution to 888“.

“He has played a significant role in helping to develop 888 into the world-class online gaming operator it is today,” Mattingley said.

“Over recent years, he has supported 888’s growth into new markets whilst also helping the group to successfully manage and navigate significant changes in our industry. On behalf of everyone at 888, I would like to wish Aviad every success for the future.”

888 chief executive Itai Pazner added: “On behalf of the entire 888 team I would like to thank Aviad for his significant contribution to the group. I would also like to extend my personal gratitude to Aviad for his support and friendship over the years.”

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