Web betting boom could spell worldwide wins

Take a look at the form, and if you like the odds, take a punt, says Jenne Mannion

The forthcoming World Cup is set to give a huge boost to all sectors of the UK gambling industry, which is already growing at 3 per cent a year. But even without this fillip, investment professionals are identifying opportunities in booming internet gambling companies such as PartyGaming, Betandwin, 888 and Sportingbet.

Although the share-price performance of internet gambling stocks has gone up and down of late, the margins remain solid. In 2005, PartyGaming, Sportingbet and 888 all grew their earnings per share by 50 per cent or more. According to the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, at least 20 per cent growth is forecast for 2006.

Sceptics believe that internet gambling is largely a fad, but Simon Murphy, the manager of the M&G UK Growth fund, has a large holding in Sportingbet, and is confident the industry will continue to grow. Internet gambling accounts for only 4 to 5 per cent of the industry worldwide, yet he believes that, thanks to broadband, this is set to grow to around 10 per cent.

A cloud hangs over internet gambling firms, however. They have a big US customer base, and factions in the Government are trying to stamp them out, though the latest attempt to change US law to crack down on American punters was thwarted this week .

James Ridgewell is the manager of New Star's UK Special Situations fund, almost 7 per cent of which is dedicated to internet gambling stocks. He sees the regulatory risk in the US as anopportunity, because investors have shied away from these stocks, creating cheap valuations.

"Because of the perceived risk, there have been few new entrants to the market," he says. "Existing players have been able to build up their client base in an industry where companies benefit from the first-mover advantage."

He points to Betonsports, which, alongside Sportingbet and 888, is one of the companies that he holds. Betonsports is trading on a price-earnings ratio of nine times for 2007, but has a high yield of 4.2 per cent and earnings per share growth of 46 per cent. He believes that the US anti-internet gambling factions will not succeed.

Andrew Lee, a research analyst at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, agrees. His firm has ranked PartyGaming and Sportingbet as a buy, and 888 as a hold.

But these stocks will get a bumpy ride as regulatory pressures mount. In March, the shares of PartyGaming, 888 and Sportingbet were hit by up to 9 per cent in early trading after the approval of a US bill to ban the use of credit cards, cheques and electronic fund transfers for internet gambling, losses that were, however, quickly reversed.

Not everyone is so confident. Andy Brough, the manager of the Schroder UK Mid 250 Fund, does not hold any internet-gambling stocks and believes that the high operating margins are unsustainable in the long term. Barriers to entry are also low, he adds - it only costs about £30,000 to buy a fully operational poker site. "There is already evidence of margin pressure. For example, many companies are offering sign-up bonuses and loyalty bonuses in a bid to be competitive," he says.

In terms of traditional casinos, the picture is certainly rosier after the Gambling Deregulation Bill was passed last year. An important facet of the Bill was the dropping of a rule stating that casino users had to become members at least 24 hours before they visited the premises. Under deregulation, casino owners will also be able to promote themselves through advertising from the end of 2006.

Simon Murphy, who holds Stanley Leisure and London Clubs International in his fund, is optimistic.

Before the the removal of the 24-hour rule in October last year, it was estimated that only 2.7 per cent of adults had visited a casino. Now any adult can visit one. "It will become commonplace to end up at a casino on stag nights, or after football and clubbing. Although these visitors would spend less per head than hardcore gamblers, it will not cost the casino any more to attract such new business," Murphy says. One advantage for existing casinos is that, from this month, the rights to build new casinos under a 1968 Act will be lost.

But it is not all good news. London Clubs International has announced that profits would be flat this year (it blames a slump in visitors after last summer's attacks on London), and it suffered from a low win percentage, while some unpaid debts remained outstanding.

Murphy believes that these developments will not seriously affect the group's longer-term fortunes, though, as they relate to the group's most exclusive club, Les Ambassadeurs (which is to be sold).

Meanwhile, back on the high street...

* Traditional high street bookies are still providing investors with good opportunities.

* These companies suffer when several favourites come to fruition, which means that they must pay out big sums, leading to a profits warning and consequently a fall in the share price. For instance, William Hill issued lower full-year profits this year after too many winning favourites came in.

* James Ridgewell, the manager of New Star's UK Special Situations fund, cites Ladbrokes, which he describes as being valued very cheaply, as one of his long-term holdings. Ridgewell expects that Ladbrokes could be the subject of a takeover or that the business will recover.

* "When this happens, the share price falls back and it provides a good chance to buy shares cheap," Ridgewell says. "There may be a profits warning, but the company ultimately recovers and the share price responds."

* Certainly, with the upcoming World Cup, the bookies can be confident about a surge in business amid the flurry of excitement surrounding the event.

* Simon Murphy, the manager of the M&G UK Growth fund, says: "The fact that the World Cup is being hosted in Europe and that the England team is one of the favourites will also help boost interest. There will be an increase in the numbers of people placing bets. This is the case with all major sporting events, and the World Cup will be no exception."

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Foreign Exchange Dealer - OTE £40,000+

    £16000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Foreign Exchange Dealer is re...

    SThree: Experienced Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £40000 per annum + OTE + Incentives + Benefits: SThree: Established f...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40/45k + INCENTIVES + BENEFITS: SThree: The su...

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    Day In a Page

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones