* Ladbrokes hires William Hill man to lead digital unit
* Ladbrokes seeks to match online success of rival
* William Hill plays down departure
By Keith Weir
LONDON, May 1 (Reuters) - British bookmaker Ladbrokes has hired Jim Mullen from William Hill to run its online operations, as it seeks to emulate the success of its larger rival in the fast-growing sector.
William Hill has expanded online and internationally in recent years, pulling clear of Ladbrokes as Britain's largest bookmaker and entering the FTSE 100 index of leading companies on Wednesday.
Gaming companies are spending heavily on promoting their online services to boost their share of a fragmented market. Ladbrokes uses former soccer player Chris Kamara in its ads, while fellow ex-player Robbie Savage has a similar role at William Hill.
Mullen, who had worked as chief operating officer of William Hill's online business, will have the title of director, digital when he starts work in November, Ladbrokes said.
He will find some familiar faces in his new role, as Ladbrokes has just launched a partnership with gambling software developer Playtech - a joint venture partner of William Hill until only last month.
William Hill said Mullen's departure was not a significant loss to the business, noting he was no longer involved with the running of its own online operations.
"Mullen was not COO (chief operating officer) of the online business as he was re-assigned to different responsibilities last year," a company spokesman said. "We have a strong, growing and dynamic top team at William Hill."
Ladbrokes issued a profit warning last month after a poor performance from horse racing and online gaming in the first three months of the year.
"At this particular point in time, we are frustrated," Ladbrokes Chairman Peter Erskine told the company's annual shareholders' meeting on Wednesday, saying the profit warning was a setback.