December 11, 2007

Sportingbet looks to organic expansion in Europe

Sportingbet’s European sports-betting businesses have “huge potential for organic growth”, according to David Hobday, the company’s chief operating officer.

Hobday was speaking after Sportingbet released first quarter figures which showed operating profit before exceptionals rising 110% to £4.2m from £2m in 2006. The company also showed a pre-exceptionals pre-tax profit of £1.5m compared to £1.1m last year.

However, net gaming revenue for the group fell slightly to £30.4m from £32.5m after a fall in poker rake. The company attributed the fall to the migration of its poker player base to the Boss platform following the closure of its standalone Paradise poker platform. But Hobday emphasised that the poker business has stabilised following the migration and said the business had seen a pick-up in November with average daily rake being 17% up on the previous month. The casino offering saw the number of bets placed rise 12%, although at a lower average bet size (£4.60 compared with £5.57 in the same period last year. The company said this represented a “substantial change in product mix”.

In terms of regulatory developments, Hobday said the company remained in talks with eh US Department of Justice regarding a possible settlement related to the company’s previous activities in the US. He added that the situation in Europe remained “uncomfortable” but relatively stable.

Sportingbet’s key European markets include Turkey, Spain, Italy and Greece – all represented at next year’s football European Championships - and Hobday said the competition represented a “good opportunity, but the challenge is to differentiate”.

With regard to European sports-betting, Sportingbet has seen amounts wagered rise to £170m from £148m with net gaming revenue rising to £15m from £13m. The number of sports bets over the period rose 16%, a rise which Hobday attributed to improvements in the company’s product offering, particularly in terms of in-running.

“The products have developed so that the customer is now encouraged to stay with us for longer and bet more,” he said.

The company also highlighted good trading at Sportingbet’s Australian operation, despite the intervention of equine influenza in two states effectively shutting down horse-racing in those territories over the period. Overall customer numbers in Australia rose by 31% to 15,164. However, net gaming revenue fell slightly to £3.5m from £3.9m due to slippage at the high-rollers telephone business.

Looking ahead, the company said trading in the second quarter had “started well” and that amounts wagered in sports-betting was 17% up year-on-year.