UPDATE 1-Sportech prepares for online launch in Connecticut

Wed Mar 6, 2013 3:55am EST

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - Sportech will start taking online bets on horseracing in Connecticut in coming weeks and sees potential growth from the relaxation of gambling laws in the United States.

The British company already has an exclusive licence to provide betting on horses and greyhounds in Connecticut, a state of four million people. It will shortly be able to offer online gambling there to complement its existing betting shops and telephone operations.

"We will launch online within the next eight weeks," Chief Executive Ian Penrose told Reuters on Wednesday.

"If we looked at what has happened with online gambling in Britain, we would expect some really dramatic growth over the next three to five years," he added.

Regulations on gambling in the U.S. remain a patchwork but there are signs of liberalisation. New Jersey last week approved online gaming and said it would continue to fight to legalise sports betting.

"As the North American gaming market starts to regulate, we are already there on the ground with offices and 700 employees," said Penrose. The company had expanded from being a British business to one with half of its revenue from North America, he said.

Sportech, which also runs traditional football pools games, reported a 1 percent rise in EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) to 26.4 million pounds ($39.9 million) in 2012, broadly in line with forecasts.

Customers for the football pools have stabilised at around 400,000, with the long-established game of picking draws from soccer fixtures now available online as well as from door-to-door collectors.

Shares in the company slipped 1.4 percent to 87.25 pence, giving it a market value of around 175 million pounds.