Ladbrokes casino machines pay off - Friday 27th of February 2009

Punters may have been left looking at snowbound and waterlogged racecourses on the bookies television screens for much of this worst winter in years, but they are still losing their cash in the betting shop casino machines.

So far, 2009 has seen 59 abandoned race meetings - a record for the first seven weeks of the year - as many of the top thoroughbreds being groomed for the big spring festivals at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in Ireland are forced to remain on their home gallops.

But Britains biggest bookmaker, Ladbrokes, said the money it has taken from punters is up 1% compared with the same period last year.

The start to this year has been dreadful - the record number of cancellations being three times higher than for the average winter, said Ladbrokes chief executive Chris Bell. But the current trading shows how resilient our business is.

There is a lot of talk about how the economy and rising unemployment would affect our business. What we are seeing is that it isnt.

Our betting shop customers are low-stake punters who are continuing to enjoy their hobby.

Ladbrokes today reported marginally higher underlying profits of £243m for 2008, which revealed how much of its business is now underpinned by the casino machines in its betting shops.

Its winnings from over-the-counter bets was down slightly in the year, but the money it is raking in from its 8,000 in-shop gaming machines around the country soared by 15% and now accounts for two-fifths of Ladbrokes income from its betting offices.

Ladbrokes has also had a strong start to the year from telephone betting high rollers.

The firm accounts for high-roller income as outside its underlying operations because business with big punters is notoriously lumpy and cannot be relied upon.

Last year the company made £80m from the higher rollers - a nice line of extra income - although that compares with a record £179m in 2007.

That dragged down the groups comparable pre-tax profits from £353m to £258m.

However, the big punters have lost a lot of money so far this year. Ladbrokes said it took £24m from them in the last seven weeks.

Despite fears by some in the City of a cut, the companys final dividend is being held at 9.05p, giving a total for the year of 14.15p.

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