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UPDATE 2-After snubbing MGM advance, Ladbrokes owner seeks to buy Swedish rival

* Entain offers to buy Enlabs in deal valued at 2.8 bln SEK

* Enlabs board backs deal expected to close in first quarter

* Deal days after Entain rejects $11 bln MGM takeover approach (Adds deal details, shares, context, background)

Jan 7 (Reuters) - Ladbrokes owner Entain said on Thursday it has offered to buy Swedish-based sports betting firm Enlabs AB for about $343 million, days after it rejected an $11 billion takeover approach from U.S.-based MGM Resorts.

The Enlabs offer has been backed by the Swedish company’s board and is expected to close in the first quarter of 2021, the London-listed company said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven deal-making across many sectors. In bookmaking, potential buyers aim to capitalise on a surge in online betting by customers kept at home by lockdowns.

Under the leadership of Shay Segev, Entain, formerly known as GVC Holdings, plans to expand in sports betting and gaming entertainment, while exiting unregulated markets by 2023.

Entain, which earlier this week said the approach from MGM Resorts significantly undervalued its business, is offering 40 SEK for each Enlabs share.

Shares in Baltic-focussed Enlabs, which operates brands such as Optibet and NinjaCasino in the sports, casino and internet gaming market, were up 1.8% at 40.25 SEK in early trade. Entain’s stock was marginally higher.

“The acquisition of Enlabs is perfectly aligned with our strategy of expanding across new regulated international markets,” said Segev.

The Enlabs deal would be financed from its current cash reserves and is expected to add to Entain’s earnings from the first full year of ownership.

Betting companies in the United States, widely seen as the next growth market after the lifting of a ban on sports betting in 2018, have been swooping to partner with their transatlantic counterparts to tap into European expertise.

MGM and Entain have had a joint venture since 2018, when they set up an online betting platform in the United States.

Entain also on Thursday raised its annual core earnings forecast to between 825 million pounds and 845 million pounds, an increase of about 7%.

Las Vegas-based casino operator Caesars Entertainment in September agreed to snap up London-based gambling group William Hill for 2.9 billion pounds($3.95 billion).

($1 = 8.1732 Swedish crowns)

$1 = 0.7348 pounds Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Barbara Lewis

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