Simon French, an analyst at Cenkos Securities, last month said that “any successful offer for William Hill would have to be pitched at well over 400p-per-share”.

It emerged a fortnight ago that Rank, which also runs Mecca bingo halls, and 888 were eyeing a consortium approach for William Hill. The bookie at the time gave a tepid response to the pair, warning that  it was “not clear” that a tie-up with Rank and 888 would “enhance” its “strategic position or deliver superior value”.

William Hill has been left vulnerable after its board last month ousted James Henderson, chief executive for just two years, because of his failure to revive its struggling online business.

Mr Henderson had presided over a number of profit warnings that have resulted in William Hill's shares falling as low as 246.9p in July, from a peak of 494.5p three years ago. The stock, which has been boosted recently by hopes of a bid, rose 10.8p to 338.2p this afternoon.  

A takeover of William Hill would be the latest in a spate deals in the British gambling sector, driven by tighter regulation and higher taxes. To achieve greater scale to absorb those pressures, Ladbrokes is merging with Coral and Paddy Power has combined with Betfair.

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