Internet betting ‘set to take lion’s share’ - Monday 2nd of June 2008

THE new online head of the region’s biggest independent bookies has confidently predicted the internet will take the lion’s share of its business within seven years.

Durham-based Pagebet has taken on Mark Irvine as director of remote betting as part of ambitious expansion plans which include nearly trebling its 43-strong shop chain by 2011.

The firm, founded by Houghton-le-Spring Grammar School friends Austin Carney and David Archer, has expanded quickly both organically and by acquisition and now has a £10m annual turnover.

Mr Irvine was part of the Bet365 launch team in 2000, and most recently was managing director of German lottery group Fluxx’s JAXX UK bookmaking business.

He said: “I cut my teeth on internet gaming. I have been there almost from the very beginning. I would say over the next five to seven years this will be the biggest part of the business.

“There is a new age of customers who are internet literate. They were born with the internet. There is this whole new generation.”

Mr Irvine has big plans to develop the recently launched online wing by improving the quality of the websites, their search engine ranking and links with other websites, as well as expanding the products available.

“We will look to develop the affiliates network where other sites market your site. It is a very good source of low cost customers,” he said.

“We will introduce new products such as poker and we will establish additional casino products. There has been a phenomenal growth in the number of people playing poker online. It is the same for bingo. There will be a sports betting-gaming cross over.”

Mr Irvine was unfazed by the problems that led to the closure of neighbouring County Durham bookie Neville Porter’s online betting division and the suspension of its shares on the stock exchange. “You can invest too heavily and too quickly,” he said. “We have the traditional shop business and a strong tele-betting business. The gambler’s desire to win big from a small stake, especially during tough economic times, will help the betting business to weather the credit crunch, he added. “Nothing is recession proof and nothing is inflation proof but betting and gaming as an industry have never suffered a particular slowdown.

“UK and European customers haven’t ever taken their foot off the gas in terms of spending.” Mr Carney said his new director would bring energy to the website.

“Mark has extensive experience of the betting industry and is highly regarded within our sector.

“With his strong background in customer services and sports trading, Mark will add a strong blend of financial control, innovative marketing, new product development and enthusiasm to Pagebet to help drive the business forward.”

At the start of last year, Pagebet owned 59 shops but sold 44 to Gala Coral to pay for its head office, telephone and online betting systems. The business has since been on the acquisition trail and last month added nine betting shops to its estate by snapping up the Midlands-based Williams group for an undisclosed sum.

It now owns 43 shops.

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