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DraftKings to go public, combine with tech firm SBTech

Under the new plans, the DraftKings headquarters will stay in Boston.
Under the new plans, the DraftKings headquarters will stay in Boston. Charles Krupa/Associated Press/Associated Press

The sports-betting company DraftKings is set to go public next year as part of a complex merger that will give it a reservoir of cash as it vies for supremacy in the fast-growing online wagering market.

DraftKings, of Boston, said Monday that it plans to merge with SBTech, a European gambling and sports-betting company. DraftKings would retain its name and local headquarters, and chief executive Jason Robins would remain at the helm.

DraftKings said the combined company would be valued at $3.3 billion and have $500 million on hand once the deal is completed sometime in the first half of 2020.


The merger plan is a major development for a high-profile local startup that got its start as a fantasy sports company and has elbowed its way into the keenly competitive world of sports betting. DraftKings is also looking for online gambling opportunities outside of sports.

On Monday, Robins said the merger will “allow us to both innovate on products at a much faster rate, as well as accelerate growth of the business.”

The company opened a massive office in the Back Bay earlier this year and expects to expand its presence in Boston, Robins said. It employs about 850 people.

“We’re still hitting the gas and planning to grow in Boston for a long time,” he said.

In an increasingly common move, the company will join the stock market without an initial public offering of its shares. IPOs for highly valued private companies have recently produced uneven results, and some firms have seen substantial declines in value after hitting the stock exchanges.

Instead, in addition to joining forces with SBTech, DraftKings will merge with Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp., a publicly traded entity known as a special-purpose acquisition company. Sometimes called “blank check” firms, such companies raise money for investment.


Diamond Eagle stock jumped 6 percent Monday.

The leaders of Diamond Eagle, veteran media industry executives Harry Sloan and Jeff Sagansky, launched it in May with a $400 million IPO. They have long been interested in sports betting and last year reportedly considered buying FanDuel, a DraftKings rival. FanDuel was eventually sold to Flutter Entertainment, an Irish company seeking a stronger US presence.

That transaction, like the DraftKings deal, is part of a pattern of consolidation in an industry that requires a significant amount of capital. That trend had sparked speculation that DraftKings would be a takeover target. The deal announced Monday, however, appears more likely to leave the company in place as part of the Boston-area technology economy. DraftKings also said it would retain senior management, including cofounders Paul Liberman and Matt Kalish.

Though Boston is a hotbed of early-stage ventures, consumer technology companies such as DraftKings have been relatively rare here. And even fewer make it to the value of DraftKings without being acquired by larger operations based elsewhere.

According to the financial firm Renaissance Capital, the stock listing of DraftKings would be fourth-largest in Boston in the past decade.

The most recent company in Greater Boston to go public on such a scale was Dynatrace, which completed a $544 million IPO this summer at a valuation of $4.4 billion, according to the data firm PitchBook. Dynatrace makes cloud computing software.

The DraftKings deal could also allow venture capitalists who invested in the company to begin to recoup their investment returns. DraftKings raised close to $1 billion from venture firms, including Boston investors Accomplice and Boston Seed Capital.


Bill Aulet, managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, said the money that investors and high-ranking managers free up as part of the deal could soon flow into other ventures in related industries.

“When you have a success story like this, it creates a liquidity event for entrepreneurs in the local ecosystem, and then they start reinvesting that company in the next generation, and they get involved at an increased experience level,” Aulet said.

He also expressed some concerns about the complexity of the deal.

Liquidity will also be key for DraftKings itself, said Chris Grove, a partner at the research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

“Anyone who really wants to compete in this market just needs money. Buckets and buckets of money. And that’s what DraftKings picked up today,” he said. “That’s definitely going to be something that comes in handy in the short- to near-term as they compete in these pretty saturated markets.”

SBTech makes sense as a complement to DraftKings’ business, he said. SBTech is incorporated in Malta and has about 1,200 employees, mostly in Eastern Europe.

The company specializes in building the nuts and bolts of sports betting and bookmaking software, which DraftKings has largely relied on outside contractors to provide.

Robins said technology platforms like SBTech determine major features such as what bets to offer, which has a huge impact on what the services look like.


“Being a tech company and being a company that is extraordinarily product- and customer-focused, we realized that we really had to have more control over that aspect,” he said. “It was too core to what the consumer offering was for us to be reliant on a third party.”

In public documents filed Monday, DraftKings said it expected its products to bring in about $305 million in net revenue this year. Net revenue for SBTech was projected at $110 million. As a privately held company, DraftKings has not previously had to reveal detailed financial information to the public. The company has said it is not turning a profit currently because it is focused on plowing as many resources as possible into expanding its market share.

As part of the deal, DraftKings, now incorporated in Delaware, will move its corporate charter to Nevada, the company said.

DraftKings started in 2011 as an operator of daily fantasy sports games, which award money based on the real-life performances of athletes that participants choose. Recently, DraftKings has been building itself into a significant competitor in the burgeoning US sports betting market.

A 2018 US Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for states beyond Nevada to legalize sports gambling. Since then, DraftKings has rolled out mobile and online sports betting in Indiana, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. It also has retail locations in Iowa, Mississippi, New Jersey, and New York.

Sports betting remains illegal in Massachusetts, though DraftKings has been lobbying for the Legislature to allow it — usually emphasizing its local roots as it advocates for a robust online betting component to whatever lawmakers approve.


Separately on Monday, New Hampshire officials announced that mobile sports betting will begin there Dec. 30. DraftKings has the licenses to operate online games in New Hampshire.

SBTech has been making its own push into US sports betting, working with operators in Arkansas, Indiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, Oregon, and Pennsylvania.

The company has faced some questions as it moves into the American market. SBTech won a contract to operate Oregon’s sports betting program this year amid protests from a competing contractor who accused the company of operating sports betting programs in countries where gambling is illegal, according to The Oregonian news organization.

The company denied the allegation. DraftKings said it is confident that SBTech is in compliance with laws in jurisdictions where it operates.

Andy Rosen can be reached at andrew.rosen@globe.com.