Gary Cohn-backed Spac to take lottery operator public in $9.3bn listing

A blank cheque company backed by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president and Trump administration adviser, plans to take a group bidding to run the UK’s National Lottery public in a $9.3bn listing on Wall Street.

Allwyn Entertainment, the Czech lottery operator formerly known as Sazka, said on Friday that it intends to list on the New York Stock Exchange via a merger with Cohn Robbins Holdings, a vehicle set up in 2020 by Cohn and Clifton Robbins, a former executive at private equity firm KKR.

Allwyn runs lotteries in Austria, the Czech Republic, Greece and Italy and is among those vying for the next UK lottery licence, which is up for renewal in 2023. The successful bidder for the lottery, which made around £8.4bn in ticket sales in 12 months to April 2021, is due to be announced next month.

The company, which is majority owned by Czech billionaire Karel Komarek, said that going public via a special purpose acquisition vehicle, or Spac, would give it funds to invest in technology. It has identified new markets that are expected to generate lottery ticket sales of €129bn this year, it added.

After leaving the White House in 2018, Cohn joined forces with Robbins to target already established businesses but with potential for long term growth, a person familiar with the matter said. The Spac raised $828m in late 2020.

The mania for Spacs, which raise money from investors by listing before finding a company to merge with, has swept global markets over the past two years and prompted concerns over the quality of some of the businesses going public.

Cohn Robbins looked at more than 50 targets spanning “flying cars to underwater golf” but chose Allwyn because it is well established in the lottery market, a sector that is relatively hard to break into, a person familiar with the matter said.

Before rebranding as Allwyn, Sazka hired Citigroup, JPMorgan Cazenove and Morgan Stanley ahead of a potential listing in 2017 but abandoned the plan a year later. In 2020, US private equity group Apollo Global Management invested $500m in the company.

Following its listing in New York, Komarek will retain just over 80 per cent of the company’s shares, Allwyn said. The listing is expected in the first half of the year.

The group is seen as a strong contender to win the right to run the UK’s National Lottery, which has been operated by the Canadian-owned company Camelot since its inception in 1994. Alongside Camelot, other bidders include UK media mogul Richard Desmond and the Italian lottery operator Sisal, which was bought by the gambling group Flutter in December.

Allwyn had invested “tens of millions” into its bid and employed 60 people, including Nectar points founder Sir Keith Mills, to work on it, a person familiar with the matter said.

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