UK bookmaker Ladbrokes buys Australian online company Betstar

LONDON (Reuters) - Bookmaker Ladbrokes LAD.L, facing regulatory and tax pressures in its British home market, has expanded its Australian business by buying online betting company Betstar for 12.4 million pounds.

The deal announced by Ladbrokes on Wednesday follows a similar-sized acquisition last September when Ladbrokes - Britain’s second-biggest bookmaker - bought online company and launched a website in Australia.

Rival European bookmakers including William Hill WMH.L and Paddy Power PAP.I have been growing in Australia, a country with a strong sporting culture and where gambling rules are clear cut.

Betstar has around 40,000 registered customers and generated earnings of A$12.9 million (74 million pounds) in the year to March.

“Australia represents one of the most vibrant regulated sports betting markets in the world and today’s announcement will see us add new customers to our growing presence,” said Damian Cope, managing director of Ladbrokes’ international arm.

Ladbrokes’ shares, which have tumbled 18 percent over the past month, were up 2.5 percent at 1111 GMT.

Britain’s bookmaking industry is facing a higher tax bill, both on cash-generative gambling machines in high street shops and also targeting online betting.

An increase in duty on gaming machines, to take effect next year, will cost the industry 75 million pounds while closing a tax loophole that has allowed operators to base operations offshore in places like Gibraltar will add an annual figure of around 300 million to the tax burden.

Ladbrokes has also struggled to keep pace with William Hill’s growth online and Chief Executive Richard Glynn faces pressure to improve the performance if he is to keep his job.

Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Susan Fenton