Giant bookmaker Ladbrokes Coral could be bought by an online rival for as much as £3.9billion.
Ladbrokes, which runs nearly 3,700 shops, confirmed it was in talks with Isle of Man based GVC about a mega takeover.
The deal would create one of the world’s biggest betting firms.
GVC owns a host of online gaming sites, including Foxy Bingo, Sportingbet and PartyCasino.
The talks come just over a year after Ladbrokes completed its own takeover of Gala Coral.
The deal could propel shamed banker Andy Hornby, currently chief operating officer at Ladbrokes, back into the splotlight.
He was slammed for his running of HBOS in the run-up to the financial crisis and got the boot after its rescue by Lloyds.
GVC boss Kenny Alexander, lined up to run the new group, said: “I definitely want Andy Hornby to stay and have a very senior role in an enlarged group.”
Analysts reckon the combined business will slash costs by £100million a year.
Ladbrokes has more than 25,000 staff, while GVC employs 2,800 across 15 offices globally.
Mr Alexander insisted the company was “100% committed” to keeping Ladbrokes Coral’s betting shops.
However, both companies said the new business would be “online led”.
Mr Alexander, a 47-year-old Scot who owns a string of race horses, has turned GVC from a £26million minnow to a £2.8billion heavyweight during his 10 years in charge.
It is the third time the two firms have held talks about a possible deal.
The latest discussions broke down in the summer over price and ahead of the Government’s gambling review.
The final price that GVC is prepared to pay for Ladbrokes depends on the outcome of the review of fixed-odds betting terminals (FOTBs), which could see the maximum stake slashed to as little as £2 from £100.
George Salmon, analyst at broker Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “GVC should get plenty of cost savings, while the combination would bump up its exposure to some of the world’s largest regulated online gaming markets, including the UK, Italy and Australia.
“However, GVC coming in before knowing the outcome of the all-important government review into the industry was probably an outside bet.”