Empire Online targets sports-betting acquisition

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The Independent Online

The internet gaming company Empire Online signalled yesterday it is aggressively targeting acquisitions and has its eye on an online sports-betting business.

The company behind the Noble Poker and Club Dice poker and casino sites was open about its desire for a takeover, after announcing profits of $41m (£23m) for 2005, up from $26m a year earlier. A sports-betting arm is the obvious gap in its offering, with analysts suggesting it could target any number of internet companies.

The major bookmakers such as William Hill and Ladbrokes offer online sports betting. Sportingbet is one of the best-known players.

Empire's chief executive, Noam Lanir, who holds more than 20 per cent of the stock, said his business had the "flexibility" to pursue merger and acquisition activity. "Our focus is to extend the range of products that we can offer our customers, including a sports book," he said.

Empire said it had gained 450 new online players a day in the first four weeks of March, with most from outside the US.

Online gambling operations are nervously eyeing moves by some US politicians to ban betting websites, a development the industry admits would be a disaster. Empire shares climbed 6p to 152p yesterday.

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