2009 has been a remarkably quiet year for games company mergers and acquisitions; the volume of transactions so far in 2009 is half that during the same period in 2008. Despite this reduced M&A newsflow, I am willing to bet that you missed a transaction – albeit modestly sized – that took place in September: the sale of a majority shareholding in Dutch online games publisher United Games.
What makes this transaction unusual is the identity of the acquirer, Austrian company Bwin, one of the giants of the online gambling world. This was followed in October by a $5.5m investment led by Bwin's UK-based rival Betfair in Watercooler Inc, a fantasy sports and social network games company. Online gambling companies have rarely invested in, let alone made, acquisitions outside of their sector – so what's going on? Given the sizeable cash reserves on many of the top gambling companies' balance sheets, is the games industry about to be flooded by gambling dollars?