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Monday, September 26, 2005


Sept. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Sportingbet Plc, a U.K. online betting company, said it ended negotiations to buy Empire Online Ltd. Shares of Empire Online fell 20 percent, the most ever.

Discussions were halted by ``mutual agreement,'' London-based Sportingbet said today in a statement. The companies disclosed Sept. 5 they were in talks, three days after Empire said it had received an approach worth 790.5 million pounds ($1.4 billion).

``Talks were only ever at an early stage and were not able to move to completion,'' Empire Online spokesman Ged Brumby said. Chief Executive Officer Noam Lanir was ``very impressed'' with Sportingbet management, led by CEO Nigel Payne, ``and now better understands the leadership positions they've achieved,'' he said. No due-diligence information was exchanged, according to Brumby.

Sportingbet spokesman George Hudson declined to comment on the reason why talks between the companies had broken down.

Shares of Empire Online dropped 51.5 pence to 202.5 pence in London and closed at the day's lowest price. The slide was the steepest since the company sold stock in an initial public offering in June. The fall cut Empire Online's market value by 151 million pounds to 593 million pounds. Sportingbet stock fell 17 pence, or 5 percent, to 326.5 pence.

Empire Online, which helps gaming Web sites such as gain customers, said Sept. 2 it had received an approach. The suitor would combine its business with Empire Online for 270 pence a share in cash and stock. Sportingbet identified itself as the suitor three days later.

PartyGaming, the world's biggest Internet gambling company, also may make an offer for Empire Online as it is the company's biggest Web site marketing customer, the Sunday Telegraph reported Sept. 4, without saying where it got the information.