Sportingbet founder in £6.5m shares sale

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The Independent Online

Mark Blandford, the founder of the online betting group Sportingbet, yesterday raised £6.5m from selling nearly 17 per cent of his stake in the business.

Mark Blandford, the founder of the online betting group Sportingbet, yesterday raised £6.5m from selling nearly 17 per cent of his stake in the business.

Mr Blandford said, however, that he remained committed to the company and had sold some of his holding in Sportingbet only as a means to spread the risk of his personal assets.

"I have had more than 90 per cent of my wealth tied up in one company for more than eight years. This is just a tiny readjustment of my assets. I am still absolutely committed to Sportingbet and its continued success," he said.

Mr Blandford still owns 4 per cent of Sportingbet, currently worth around £34m, but has cashed in on the dramatic rise in Sportingbet's share prices over the past six months. Since buying Paradise Poker, the online poker business, shares in Sportingbet have raced to highs of 349p from 100p, valuing the company at £1.1bn. Had Mr Blandford sold the same number of shares last month, he would have made nearly £9m. "I've learnt that no one ever quite manages to sell at the top and buy at the bottom. I am contented with the price I got."

The online poker industry is experiencing phenomenal growth, bringing in millions in revenues, and a number of other online poker businesses are lining up to float in London. Party Gaming, behind the PartyPoker brand, could be worth as much as £3bn when it lists.

Sportingbet shares have fallen back to around 260p in the past month, on fears that the revenues generated from online poker have been inflated. Mr Blandford denied, however, that his share sale was a sign of imminent bad news. Yesterday the shares closed down 8.5p at 261p.

Sportingbet floated in January 2001 at 120p. Mr Blandford sold 2.2 million shares this time last year for £1.6m when the shares were at 76p, and in 2003 he made £2.5m from selling shares at 31p.

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