MANY of the entrepreneurs who have made headlines by capitalising on the world’s gambling boom seem to have come from far-flung places. So it is refreshing to know that one of Britain’s oldest and - Friday 12th of August 2005

Empire Online, an internet poker and casino marketing company, announced an 87.5 per cent rise in first-half profit on Monday and said it had made two acquisitions.

Maiden, pro forma, pre-tax profits for the company, which floated in London in June, rose from $13.6m to $25.5m (£14.5m) on turnover that jumped from $25.2m to $49.7m.

The pro forma figures factor in the contribution of Tradal, another company acquired at the time of the float.

Empire, which generates its revenue from attracting players to sites such as PartyPoker - operated by PartyGaming, and the casino operator 888.com, also said it had agreed to buy Club Dice - a casino and bingo operator, and Noble Poker - a poker operator, for a total of $40m.

With the acquisitions, Empire has broadened its reach from marketing other sites to operating its own. It said that it planned to launch a backgammon site shortly and that would also increase the operating element of the company.

Andrew Burnett of Empire Online said :"We have always been of the view that marketing is the differentiating element of this industry but if we cant find the right technology we will develop our own."

Online poker, which makes up the bulk of the revenue, grew sharply in the first half of the year with a boost from the poker world series. However, casino income had fallen slightly because of some big wins by players.

The company also said it was still looking to grab more European punters to reduce its reliance on the US and Canada.

Empire Online shares, which were placed at 175p slipped 1½p to 229½p in early London trading on Monday.

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