Sportingbet in U.S. talks, trading on track

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Sportingbet is in talks with U.S. authorities over a deal that could end the threat of prosecution for taking bets there, the British gambling firm’s chief executive told Reuters on Tuesday.

Andy McIver added that trading over the first two months of the company’s new financial year had been “in-line with market expectations”, with early season soccer results helping cushion horse race cancellations in Australia due to an outbreak of equine flu.

“It (race cancellations) has impacted around 200,000 pounds but not enough for us to issue a profit warning” McIver told Reuters on the sidelines of the European i-Gaming conference.

He revealed Sportingbet was, like rivals PartyGaming and, in talks with U.S. authorities to cut a deal to end the threat of retrospective prosecution for taking wagers from U.S. punters before online gambling was effectively outlawed a year ago.

“We are in talks. It’s a very slow process, you work to their agenda,” said McIver.

“They have never named a figure (fine) but talked about a formula... All the conversations we have had have all been amicable and have all been constructive.”

The legality of Internet gambling in the United States was ambiguous for many years, but it was effectively banned last October when President George W. Bush signed legislation outlawing financial payments for gambling.

Since then, U.S. authorities have prosecuted some founders of online firms as well company executives.

If the threat of prosecution is removed, analysts say, there could be a rush of online gambling firm mergers as the biggest players look to bulk up their online poker networks and save on expensive software, call centres and advertising.

They say it will also allow firms to borrow meaningfully from currently wary banks to speed their acquisition ambitions as well as hand cash back to shareholders.