Surrey Group takeover signals off-shore betting

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The Independent Online
INTERNET sports betting and gaming could move off-shore and become tax free if entrepreneurs Peter Wilkinson and Chris Akers succeed in a proposed takeover bid of the ailing betting shops operator Surrey Group.

On-line tax free betting would be one likely outcome, should yesterday's confirmation of a takeover approach by Sports Internet Group for Surrey Group lead to a deal. Surrey Group is a second-tier betting chain with ten shops, but more significantly, holds a Channel Islands gaming licence and operates a mainland tele-betting business.

Sports Internet, 53 per cent owned by Mr Wilkinson and 7 per cent owned by Mr Akers, came to the Alternative Investment Market in February as a cash shell. Since then it has bought web site operator Planetfootball for pounds 24m and on Tuesday paid pounds 3.9m to acquire Opta Index, an official provider of football statistics to the FA Premier League.

Surrey Group, which at one time had 90 betting shops, has slumped in recent years. Its shares, having sunk to 0.5p in May, have perked up to 2.5p since takeover speculation mounted. In the half year to September, Surrey eeked out pretax profit of pounds 60,000 on revenue of pounds 14.3m. In the full year to March 1998, Surrey lost pounds 692,000 on sales of pounds 25.8m.

Sports Internet is thought to believe that it can enhance its Internet business significantly with Surrey's tele-betting operations and brand.

Sports Internet aims to attract a million visitors to its web site by the yearend and hopes to eventually handle over $100m per year in on- line betting revenue. Its shares closed down 7.5p at 305p - more than three times above its debut close on AIM in February at 88.5p.