Gaming groups prepare to float as betting fever sweeps the UK - Thursday 12th of May 2005

Lord Steinberg, the founder of the casino operator Stanley Leisure, is in line to become chairman of Tradal in a move that will bring the online poker company a step closer to its planned £550m flotation next month.Tradal has offered the post of non-executive chairman to Lord Steinberg, the 68-year-old chairman of Stanley, although it was not clear yesterday whether he had accepted.Lord Steinberg, a working peer and donor to the Conservative Party, is one of the leading figures in the traditional gaming industry.

Last week, Stanley sold its 624 betting shops to its rival William Hill for £504m, leaving it a pure casino operator.Tradal, which runs Empire Poker and directs traffic to other gambling sites, has appointed Numis, the stockbroker, to advise it on a stock-market listing in London.Several other online gambling groups are planning to float on the London market this year, following in the footsteps of Sportingbet, which was one of the first online gaming groups to list in 1999. Its shares have trebled in value since it bought Paradise Poker in November, and the group is on the lookout for more acquisitions.The Gibraltar-based Party Gaming, the world's largest online poker company, moved closer to a £5bn float on the London market this month when it appointed two City big hitters to its board.

Michael Jackson, the chairman of the software group Saga, and Brian Larcombe, the former chief executive of 3i, joined the company as non-executive directors, indicating that Party Gaming is gearing up for one of the biggest listings in recent years.Meanwhile, Sportswinbet plans a listing on the Alternative Investment Market, London's junior market, for 6 June. Cassava Enterprises, the owner of the 888.com brand, also plans to float this year.The upcoming floats are a testament to the growth of the online gambling industry, but also raise the spectre of another dot.com-style boom and bust.

Meanwhile, Camelot, the lottery operator, is expected to announce today that annual sales have risen to about £4.7bn, after a 600 per cent surge in interactive business to £87.5m.Players can now gamble on mobile telephones, on the internet and through Sky Interactive. The expected rise in sales, from £4.6bn last year, would mark the second consecutive year of growth. It will also allow the chief executive, Dianne Thompson, to leave the group on a high note. She has not yet fixed a departure date.Camelot is expected to make two new board appointments today.

news.independent.co.uk

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