When Rupert Murdoch was a student at the Victorian boarding school Geelong Grammar in the 1940s he was known to spend spare weekends at the nearby racetrack betting on horses.
So it would be fitting if the billionaire media mogul’s latest, and perhaps final, corporate manoeuvre in his homeland involved a punt on the betting industry itself.
Murdoch turned 90 last week, and the passing of that milestone has already sparked significant intrigue. The Financial Times used a lengthy feature to speculate that the News Corp executive chairman has one big deal left in him.
The potential for News Corp, his Australian focused vehicle which owns a controlling stake in Foxtel and various local and global newspapers including the Herald Sun in Melbourne and the Wall Street Journal, to be reunited with his other listed media vehicle, US focused Fox Corp, has long been discussed and could make a lot of sense.
But there is at least one other deal process in Australia that may have piqued Murdoch’s interest. An auction is under way for Australia’s largest listed gambling business, Tabcorp, after the $10 billion firm told the market last month it had received numerous approaches for its wagering business, which includes the TAB and Sky Racing brands.
Entain, the UK-based owner of Ladbrokes and Sportingbet, has already lobbed a $3 billion bid for the wagering business. Private equity firms have also been linked with the asset. It would make sense if Murdoch was keeping a close eye on proceedings too.
His family certainly has form in this industry. Under Lachlan Murdoch, Fox in the US has become a slimmed down company focused on live news and sport, but also one that has pushed heavily into betting. Lachlan, who was appointed co-chairman of News Corp in 2014, has exercised more influence over the family empire as his father’s health waned.
Respected Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Jessica Reif Cohen recently described Fox as “the best positioned media company to benefit from sports betting” and its exposure to the sector has been paying off – Fox shares closed at record highs on Friday, valuing the business at $US25 billion ($32 billion).