Icap chief Spencer puts £1.7m on mobile gaming firm Probability

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The Independent Online

Many of those outside the City see little difference between trading on the London markets and gambling. For Michael Spencer, Conservative Party treasurer and head of the blue-chip interdealer broker Icap, that difference is clear: one is a job, the other an investment opportunity.

News emerged yesterday that Mr Spencer had made his latest foray into the gambling sector, investing £1.7m in a little-known group that specialises in betting services provided to customers on their mobile phones. He has taken a 15.8 per cent stake in Probability, through his holding company IPGL, by subscribing to a private placing of 3.3 million shares at 50p each. He said: "I am confident that Probability can be a major player in one of the most exciting growth areas in the gaming arena over the next decade."

One director at IPGL said: "The vast majority of our investments is in financial services, but gaming is always of interest." The stake joins doof.com and TurfTrax in Mr Spencer's portfolio of gambling interests.

Doof is a social gaming network for customers wanting to play games against each other for points rather than money. TurfTrax is hoping to provide the next generation of gambling on horse racing. The group has produced a chip put in the horses' saddle to monitor the positions and performance during the race. The company wants to use the split-second data to allow punters to bet as the race unfolds.

One of Mr Spencer's earlier investments in the sector was in online bookmaker Blue Square, which he sold to Rank Group in 2003. It was through Blue Square that he was introduced to Probability, as the two companies have a "white labelling" agreement. Probability runs services with Blue Square's brand.

Probability's chief executive Charles Cohen said Mr Spencer's investment was "huge". He said: "To get his seal of approval is almost worth as much as the financial investment in credibility terms."

Probability provides gambling games including casino, bingo and slots to customers direct to their mobiles. It was first set up as Mlotto to provide mobile lottery games in 2004, but changed its name and focus before listing on the Alternative Investment Market in August 2006. It already has agreements with Orange, part of France Telecom, and The Sun newspaper.

So far, none of the larger online gambling companies have cracked the mobile market. Arbuthnot Securities said in a research note last year that it would be the sector's "next big thing".

Matthew Wreford, a director at IPGL, will join Probability's board. He said: "There is huge potential for growth. We looked at a number of mobile gambling businesses, and few can do what Probability can."