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Business Comment

OUTLOOK: Ladbrokes' chief puts his money on World Cup result


Outlook Is Ladbrokes' decision to pay a dividend uncovered by earnings a sign of desperation or of confidence?

The bookmaker's problems are well documented. Its shops are getting hit by increased taxes and tighter regulation. The online offering has struggled to attract customers because its technology has lagged well behind rivals. Its chief executive Richard Glynn admits the company is at least six months behind where he wanted it to be.

Ladbrokes is at least still making money, but the £67.6m profit it reported for 2013 is about a third of the 2012 total. As a result investors are restive, with the rumblings about Mr Glynn's future getting louder.

The flipside to this story is Playtech and the forthcoming World Cup. The former has been hired to rejuvenate the bookie's online offering. Controlled by the Israeli billionaire Teddy Sagi, it is an eccentric company to say the least. Its involvement with Ladbrokes' great rival William Hill, for example, produced a string of lurid but entertaining (to those on the outside) headlines.

However, what no one debates is the quality of Playtech's kit, which is widely regarded to be about as good as it gets. The contract with Ladbrokes pays it more when the bookie earns more, so there's a powerful incentive to play nice, and things finally appear to be moving in the right direction.

With the World Cup fast approaching, this set of results could ultimately be seen as the bookie's nadir, particularly if Ladbrokes puts its neck on the line and offers the best price on England winning, a strategy that has made it millions at previous tournaments.

Mr Glynn is talking a good game. Now he just needs his shareholders to keep him on the pitch long enough to prove that the happy scenario he is outlining proves to be a realistic one rather than the sort of pipedream that keeps his customers betting on England to win the World Cup.