Former Rank chief Birch in talks to run Ladbrokes-owner Entain

Henry Birch, the former boss of Rank Group, is among the candidates vying to run Entain, the FTSE-100 owner of Ladbrokes.

Sky News has learnt that Mr Birch is one of a small number of candidates being considered by Entain to replace Jette Nygaard-Andersen as its permanent chief executive.

The recruitment process comes at a challenging time for Entain, which has been beset by boardroom upheaval and regulatory difficulties in various international markets.

Its stock has halved in the last year, leaving it with a market capitalisation of just under £5bn.

This weekend, sources close to the company confirmed that Mr Birch was a serious contender for the post, although they said others were also in contention.

An appointment could still be weeks or even a small number of months away, they added.

Henry Birch, CEO of Very Group
Henry Birch, former CEO of Very Group

Mr Birch stepped down as chief executive of Very Group, the online retailer owned by the Barclay family, in 2022.

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He is an experienced gambling industry executive, having spent four years as chief executive of William Hill Online prior to joining the London-listed multichannel gaming operator Rank Group.

He has also held roles at Leisure & Gaming plc and BettingCorp.

Under Mr Birch, Very Group broke the £2bn annual sales mark for the first time.

Investors in Entain have been pressing its board to recruit a new chief executive with substantial gambling experience as it grapples with a plunging share price and numerous regulatory and strategic challenges.

Last week, Sky News revealed that former bosses of bookies Coral and Skybet had rejected overtures to become its new boss.

Pic: Reuters

Industry sources said that Dan Taylor, chief executive of Flutter Entertainment’s international operations, had also been approached, although it was unclear whether he was interested.

Entain has been under siege from activist investors for months.

In January, it announced that Ricky Sandler, who runs Entain shareholder Eminence Capital, would join its board as a non-executive director.

Last month, it said that Barry Gibson, its chairman, would retire later this year and be replaced by interim chair, and former acting CEO, Stella David.

Entain has hired bankers to sell PartyPoker and other non-core operations, which the Financial Times reported could include Netherlands-based BetCity, which Entain bought for £398mn last year.

As well as Ladbrokes, Entain owns Coral and a stake in BetMGM, a major US betting player.

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MGM Resorts, the US casino operator behind the Bellagio in Las Vegas, attempted to buy Entain in 2021 but was rebuffed at a much higher valuation than the UK company’s shares trade at now.

MGM has since ruled out a further bid, although analysts expect it to return at some stage.

The company has faced a deluge of regulatory problems, triggering sharp criticism of its governance and business practices.

Last December, it was ordered to pay £615m for failing to prevent bribery at its former Turkish subsidiary under a deferred prosecution agreement.

Shares in Entain closed at 778.8p on Friday, giving the company a market capitalisation of £4.98bn.

Entain declined to comment, while Mr Birch could not be reached for comment.

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