Fred Done gambling on 'sexy' casino venture - Sunday 12th of June 2005

BOOKMAKER Done Brothers is making a multi-million pound drive into the online gaming sector.

Fred Done, the multi-millionaire Salford-born businessman who heads the UK's fourth largest betting shop business, is determined to grab a share of what he calls "the sexy industry".

Betfred.com, the Dones' internet arm, has just launched an online casino offering a range of games, including poker, Black Jack and roulette, alongside the traditional web-based betting business.

Cutting-edge software, perfected over the last three years has been installed at a cost of £4m, while marketing spend on the new business this year will be around £5m and will double next year.

Betfred.com trades in 16 currencies, 19 languages and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Admitting he is a latecomer - there are already around 200 online casinos - Fred says: "Online at the moment is the sexy industry, it's a worldwide business and the growth is phenomenal.

"We are late entrants to it, but we have got the brand and the shops on our side. We have got to work that bit harder to make it work.

"It was a mistake on my part (not to launch earlier) but it is a mistake that we are rectifying. If I thought it was too late I would not be putting all this cash into it, I would be trading the shops and making a nice profit.

"It's the new gold rush, but my belief is that the gold rush will stop and it will be the players who know what they are doing who will make the money, Over the next three years there will be a lot of rationalisation.

"Some people will go out of business because they don't have the right skills. We have the experience and the brand name and the resources to succeed."

Haul

Fred, who owns the business with his brother Peter, says the pair are in it "for the long haul". They have rebutted numerous takeover approaches from the big plcs and from private equity houses keen to get a foothold in the online market.

Fred says: "We have never opened a business with the view of selling it off quickly. With the test of time we think we have done it right. We are well respected in our industry."

The traditional Done betting empire operates 505 shops spanning the length of the country. Over the counter betting income is £655m a year, while a similar figure is generated from slot machines and fixed odds machines in the betting shops.

The fledgling online business has racked up losses of £10m over the last three years. Fred believes the concerted push into e-gaming will soon move the business into profit.

"We expect turnover from poker and the casino to exceed £250m within an 18 month period, and be profitable in the next two years."

So confident is Fred that the e-gaming arm will be a winner with punters, that he say he would not sell the loss-making business for £50m.

Asked about calls from some quarters for the government to regulate the gaming sector, because some people have become addicted, Fred says: "We just want the government to let us continue our business. We take the issue of under-age gambling and problem gambling very seriously.

"We just want people to have fun. The number of problem gamblers is a tiny percentage, less than 0.25 per cent."

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