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Per Widerström named 888 chief executive 

| By Robin Harrison
Industry veteran Per Widerström is 888 Holdings’ new chief executive, taking charge of the operator from 16 October 2023. 
Alea management change

New 888 CEO Widerström joins following eight years as chief executive of Central and Eastern European business Fortuna Entertainment Group, stepping down in 2022.

His 17-year industry career covers executive roles for high profile operators such as Bwin.party and Gala Coral Interactive. Widerström also sits on the Catena and Casumo boards as a non-executive director. 

888 CEO Per Widerstrom
Widerström was the “clear standout candidate to lead the group”, 888 chair says

Following his appointment Lord Mendelsohn returns to a non-executive position. Since the removal of Itai Pazner in January, Mendelsohn ran the business as executive chair.

“We are delighted to be able to appoint Per following what has been an extensive and comprehensive search process,” Lord Mendelsohn commented. “The board unanimously agreed that Per was the clear standout candidate to lead the group to build on the strong platform for growth and value creation that has been established.”

Building an international multi-brand operator

Widerström’s experience spans public and private companies making him a perfect fit to lead 888, Mendelsohn added. 

“He has a strong and proven track record of driving growth and delivering transformation programmes at multiple leading online gaming businesses and the board is very pleased to appoint someone with the skillset to deliver our objective to become a much stronger international multi-brand operator, leveraging our technology and data capabilities to drive an acceleration in growth.

“Per not only understands the power and exciting potential of the business, but the board is also very pleased with his strong record and reputation on governance and compliance.”

888’s combination with William Hill created a “world-class portfolio of betting and gaming brands, an outstanding technology platform and an exceptional team”, Widerström said.

“Together these attributes mean it is exceptionally well positioned to become a clear global industry leader.

“It is incredibly exciting to be joining at such a key moment in the group’s long-term development. 888 has a clear and attractive opportunity ahead of it and I am very much looking forward to getting started and working with the rest of the team to build on the strong progress already made and achieve the group’s full and very exciting potential.”

888 finally gets their man following lengthy search

The operator had been without a chief executive since January when Itai Pazner departed abruptly after four years in charge. He left amid an investigation into AML and KYC failing for Middle Eastern VIP customers.

After suspending VIP activity in the region, new policies and procedures to mitigate AML risks prompted 888 to reopen accounts and onboard new customers by April.

In the background a recruitment process considered a number of candidates, sources told iGB, until a new candidate threw their hat into the ring. 

Kenny Alexander’s 888 takeover bid

FS Gaming, an investment vehicle backed by former Entain CEO Kenny Alexander, chair Lee Feldman and chief financial officer Stephen Morana, acquired a 6.75% stake in 888 in June.

The trio made a bid to take charge of the operator, prompting a warning from the Gambling Commission. 888’s board concluded their appointments had “no reasonable prospect of being approved”, ending talks as a result. 

The Gambling Commission is investigating the operator following the matter, after suggesting 888 may lose its GB licence should it appoint the trio and the change in corporate control was rejected.

What’s in the new CEO’s in-tray?

Widerström takes charge as 888 wrestles with a significant debt pile following the William Hill acquisition. It aims to reduce its debt leverage by 3.5x by 2025, embarking on a planning phase to narrow its focus to a number of core markets by 2025.  

Paf acquired its William Hill and Mr Green Latvian businesses as it divests operations in non-core markets, while Broadway Gaming bought 888 Bingo in July 2022.

With CFO Yariv Dafna leaving at the end of 2023, 888’s senior team will be reshaped. Former UK and Ireland managing director Phil Walker now sits on the C-suite as chief commercial officer and head of B2C Shai Tabibian must be replaced.

Revenue declined 5% year-on-year on a pro forma basis to £446m in the first quarter of 2023, with online struggling. Safer gambling measures cut online revenue 9% in the UK and Ireland, while international online declined 11% as a result of the Middle East suspension.

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