SportingBet takes gamble on casino games

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The Independent Online

Sportingbet, the online betting and gaming operator, is to launch new casino-style games to broaden its appeal further after seeing profits surge in the second quarter.

Its shares dropped 3 per cent to 394p, though, because a major shareholder cashed in some of the shares it received when it sold its Paradise Poker website to Sportingbet for £169m in 2004. Bonaire Investment Holdings sold down its stake to 9.4 per cent by placing 17 million shares at 385p.

Sportingbet plans to launch a handful of casino games this year to expand its portfolio of sports betting, poker and roulette. Pretax profits leapt 72 per cent to £27m in the second quarter, and the company said it might beat full-year forecasts of £103m in operating profits.

Andrew McIver, the finance director, said it was seeing the benefits of its "shared purse" system, which allows players to switch between games. That meant the number of US sports-betting customers who also played poker rose 30 per cent from the first quarter, offsetting a run of poor sports results.

Mr McIver said Sportingbet would be happy if it made £1m from the World Cup, which would double the takings seen last time.

The group played down the risk of a US clampdown on online gambling. A prohibition bill was introduced to Congress last week, which would update existing laws to outlaw bets taken over the internet. It also would require credit card companies to disallow money transfers going to offshore gambling sites.

But Sportingbet said the bill sat awkwardly with the US stated policy on internet matters and pointed out that Congress might be reluctant to give full debating time to the bill in a year shortened by senatorial elections in November.

The group also called on the UK Government to sell licences to online gaming firms and allow them to stay offshore, saying high corporation tax and VAT deterred them from coming onshore. A decision is expected in the March budget.