UPDATE 1-World Cup boosts revenue for bookmaker William Hill
(Adds shares, plans for foreign expansion)
By Keith Weir
LONDON Aug 1 (Reuters) - Leading British bookmaker William Hill said the soccer World Cup had boosted revenues in the first half of the year, with growing numbers of its customers betting on matches online.
In his first day in the job on Friday, new Chief Executive James Henderson said his priorities were to grow the business internationally, develop its technology and profit from the increasing number of ways in which its customers can now bet.
Betting on the World Cup in June and July was up by 80 percent on comparable figures from the last time the tournament was played in 2010.
The World Cup helped to offset the impact of unfavourable sports results earlier in the year when bookmakers had to make big payouts on weekends when a number of favourites won, particularly in English Premier League soccer.
Revenue rose 7 percent to 805 million pounds ($1.36 billion) in the 26 weeks to July 1, while operating profit dipped by 2 percent to 177 million. Both figures were slightly ahead of consensus forecasts.
Shares dipped 1.2 percent to 348.2p by 0730 GMT.
HARD ACT TO FOLLOW
Henderson, who has been with the company for 29 years, faces the tough task of replacing the highly regarded Ralph Topping.
Topping had been with William Hill for more than four decades, serving as CEO in the last six years.
He won plaudits for an international expansion which has taken the company into Australia, the United States, Spain and Italy and developing the online business.
That expansion has seen William Hill stride clear of rival Ladbrokes to establish itself as the biggest company in the sector.
Henderson said he planned to build on what Topping had done rather than changing strategy.
"I will be looking hard at how we can continue to create shareholder value in developing a focused but internationally orientated gambling group," Henderson said.
The industry is facing financial and regulatory pressures in Britain where the government is tightening controls on betting shops and increasing taxes on both online gambling and high stakes gaming machines. ($1 = 0.5925 British Pounds) (Reporting by Keith Weir; editing by James Davey)