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FanDuel and DraftKings drop their merger

FanDuel and DraftKings have decided to scrap their merger rather than fight the U.S. government, which had sought to block the combination of the country's two top daily fantasy sports sites on grounds that it threatened competition and consumers.

In a statement, FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles said the companies believed -- even until the end -- that the merger would have aided both companies' growth. But he stressed that it was "in the best interest of our shareholders, customers, employees, and partners to terminate the merger agreement and move forward as an independent company."

A spokeswoman for DraftKings did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment.

Initially, FanDuel and DraftKings believed that their tie-up, first announced in November, could help them weather their shared, mounting financial woes, while tackling a perilous regulatory environment that at times resulted in stiff fines.

But the Federal Trade Commission — the agency reviewing the transaction — determined that the two companies combined would have served more than 90 percent of the market for daily fantasy sports bets. Those games allow players to draft weekly rosters of athletes and wager on their performance.

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While FanDuel and DraftKings tried to argue that they served a much broader industry — including more casual, year-long fantasy sports leagues, the likes of which are offered by Yahoo, ESPN and other web behemoths — the FTC still voted 2-0 in June to block the deal, as Recode first reported.

That left FanDuel and DraftKings in July with a critical decision: fight the FTC in what might be lengthy, costly litigation, or abandon their deal and attempt to go at it alone. Even during a court case, the two companies wouldn't have been able to work together on strategy. To that end, they opted to walk away Thursday.

Earlier this week, FanDuel's Eccles appeared to signal the end of his company's merger plans, stressing the all options would be "on the table" as he and his counterpart at DraftKings prepared for a scheduled, July 14 conference to set the timetable for a legal war with the FTC.

During the interview, though, he stressed the health of FanDuel's business, even offering a wager of his own: "We certainly feel that next year will be a break-even year for us," Eccles said.

By Tony Romm, Recode.net.

CNBC's parent NBCUniversal is an investor in Recode's parent Vox, and the companies have a content-sharing arrangement.