Wembley shares slip as profits dip to £26m

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Wembley, the former owner of the football stadium of the same name, reported a fall in pre-tax profits from £33.6m to £26.1m yesterday.

Wembley, the former owner of the football stadium of the same name, reported a fall in pre-tax profits from £33.6m to £26.1m yesterday.

The group, which is now a greyhound to slot machine company, said the fall in profits reflected the costs associated with the large-scale disposals programme, which included the sale of the landmark stadium.

Performance at the company's six UK greyhound tracks was lacklustre, with profits largely unchanged at £4.5m. High-profile events, such as the World Cup, diverted customers from the racetracks, while the poor general economic climate also hit attendance levels.

Despite this, Nigel Potter, the chief executive, said he would like to increase the number of tracks in the portfolio from six to 10, but acknowledged expansion can be difficult: "So many [racetracks] are privately owned, and they're one-man bands. You've just got to be opportune when [a sale] arises."

Earlier Wembley explained how the sliding US dollar had hit 2002 operating profits by more than 4 per cent. Announcing full-year operating profits for continuing operations up 11 per cent to £38.9m, the company said a steady exchange rate would have added an extra £1.6m.

In America – the company's core market – its Rhode Island gaming facility saw average weekly spending by customers increase 18.4 per cent to $4.5m (£2.9m). Wemblery has gained permission for a 75 per cent increase in the number of machines.

The company continues to be the focus of a Federal Grand Jury investigation into allegations of illegal payments made by the company. Althoughconfident that these claims are "without foundation," Claes Hultman, the company's chairman, conceded yesterday there is a "significant possibility" of charges being brought.

Wembley shares closed down 36p at 759p.

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