US online gambling giant is ready to place its bets in City

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The Independent Online

One of the US's biggest online gambling groups is looking to take advantage of the UK's more relaxed gaming laws by floating on the London Stock Exchange., which claims to be the largest online betting company in the world, serves American customers but, to avoid stringent US gambling laws, is based offshore in Costa Rica. It originally tried to float in London in 2000, but the tech collapse meant the plans fell through.

However, it is understood that the group is now considering listing in London again and sources claim it has been talking to a number of UK-based advisers. Said one industry insider: "They are dipping a toe in the water again to see if the appetite is there."

The US authorities take a strong line against internet gambling companies, and most are based offshore. The UK, despite criticism about the archaic nature of some legislation, has one of the most open betting industries in the world. Further improvements are also expected through the forthcoming Gambling Bill.

Online gambling has also become popular in the UK, through betting exchanges such as Betfair, where punters act as bookmakers by laying and matching bets, and more traditional sites from established bricks and mortar operators such as Coral.

There are also dedicated online bookies such as Sportingbet, which serves more than 800,000 customers in 150 countries. It transferred from the loosely regulated Ofex market to the Alternative Investment Market, the LSE's platform for smaller companies, in 2001 and now has a value of £154m.

A trading statement from the group last week revealed that Sportingbet's operating profits for the final quarter would not be less than £6.7m, a significant improvement on the previous year's figure of £4m., which already has a UK bookmakers permit, handled 1.6m bets on the popular college basketball tournament organised by the National Collegiate Athletic Association in 2003, representing a total stakes of £52.4m.