Online gambling drives William Hill profit higher

Fri Apr 19, 2013 2:47am EDT

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LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - William Hill, Britain's largest bookmaker, said it would invest more to boost its share of the online market after that division fuelled a 8 percent increase in first-quarter operating profit.

The rapidly expanding online business was again the standout performer, helping to drive a 15 percent increase in net revenues in the 13 weeks to April 2, the company said on Friday.

Sums wagered online on sports were higher than what was spent "over the counter" in the company's long established chain of high street betting shops.

William Hill will now reap full benefits from its online activities after spending 424 million pounds ($648.4 million) to buy out its joint venture partner Playtech, a deal completed earlier this week.

William Hill has also acquired the Australian operations of rival gambling company Sportingbet in a 459 million pound deal, part of its international expansion programme.

"It has been a successful start to 2013 in trading terms, moving forward with our strategy, expanding into Australia and taking full control of William Hill Online," Chief Executive Ralph Topping said in a statement.

"Having grown our UK online market share from 10 percent to 15 percent over the last four years, we aim to increase our share and are making significant investments in marketing, technology and people to achieve that," he added.

Ladbrokes, Britain's second largest bookmaker, issued a profit warning on Monday, citing poor returns from the Cheltenham horse racing festival and the high number of cancelled race meetings in a cold winter as factors.

William Hill also said cancellations and lower turnover from Cheltenham had led to a 4 percent fall in sums wagered in its betting shops.

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