LONDON/DUBLIN - Tech-savvy gamblers using smartphones and tablets to bet on live match action will help to make next month's soccer World Cup the most lucrative sports event ever for British bookmakers and bring welcome relief from tough market conditions.
Betting companies in Britain are grappling with tighter regulation and an additional tax burden of 400 million pounds (S$844.9 million) over the coming year - moves that have weighed heavily on their share prices.
But the Brazilian sporting drama dovetails with a surge in soccer gambling - now rivalling horse racing as the main online revenue earner for British and Irish bookies - and could mean industry earnings double from the last World Cup.
"We are anticipating that we will turn over well over 200 million (pounds) this tournament. In 2010 it was circa 100 million," said Terry Pattinson, trading director at William Hill, Britain's largest bookmaker.
The big bookmakers expect to take more money online than in their betting shops as younger gamblers, raised on a steady stream of live TV action, reach for mobile phones to place bets.
Furthermore, they expect returns to be boosted by two new aspects of customer behaviour: more bets will be placed by fans from their sofa or neighbourhood pub - rather than by seasoned gamblers calculating the odds - and punters can now make multiple bets on a staggering number of options as the games unfold.
"Most of the popular bet types are around players, whether they score goals, get yellow or red cards. How many corners in a match. It's about action," said Pattinson, who oversees the odds offered by the bookmaker from his base in the northern English city of Leeds. Ladbrokes plans to offer more than 250 markets on each game covering all aspects of play.
Grabbing the most gamblers...
Bookmakers have already begun to bombard television viewers with advertising - many of them starting weeks before the World Cup's June 12 kickoff.
"It will be an enormous, one in four year opportunity, to attract mass market customers," said Patrick Kennedy, chief executive of Irish bookmaker Paddy Power which is forecasting a doubling of World Cup turnover to 160 million euros (S$273.5 million).
But behind the usual scramble for market share this time lies a battle for survival.
In December the British government closes a loophole that has allowed bookmakers to minimise tax bills on online earnings by basing operations offshore in places like Gibraltar. Then in March 2015 it will raise taxes on the high stakes gambling machines that account for a big slice of betting shop revenues.
Faced with extra millions on their tax bills, the big brands will have to cut costs to survive - sparking a wave of industry consolidation that will squeeze out anyone who does not have a big customer base.
"A good World Cup will have more of a defining impact on the position of the player in the market," said Simon Oaten of business consultancy Deloitte.
"The larger operators have an increasing advantage in the sports betting sector."