Betfair looks to England for World Cup betting boost

LONDON - Online gambling exchange Betfair said it wanted England to do well at the World Cup and boost its betting revenue after its annual profit beat forecasts on Wednesday.

Betfair, which operates an exchange that allows gamblers to bet against each other, has been slimming down its operations and cutting costs under Chief Executive Breon Corcoran, seeking to focus on fewer markets where returns are more secure. "The emphasis on sustainable revenues and our product and marketing investments are paying off, resulting in record revenues and profits," Corcoran said in a statement.

Operating profit rose 24 per cent to 91 million pounds (S$190.8 million) in the year to April 30, helped by more than 30 million pounds of cost savings, and coming in above the company's previous guidance.

The going will get tougher for gambling companies from December when the British government closes a loophole that had allowed them to reduce their tax bill by basing their operations offshore in places such as Gibraltar.

Betfair estimated that tax changes in Britain, Ireland and Italy would have cost it around 36 million pounds last year.

Like rival betting companies, Betfair is looking to the football World Cup which kicks off on Thursday to lift trading and help it to win new customers ahead of the tax changes in Britain.

Corcoran, an Irishman, said Betfair would be cheering on England to keep its large English customer base engaged. "If England have a couple of losses early on, I think people will lose interest quickly," he said. England face tough games against Italy and Uruguay in their opening group.

Betfair shares were 0.5 per cent higher at 1,027 pence by 0737 GMT, paring initial gains. The shares trade on a price-earnings multiple of around 22, making them expensive compared with more traditional bookmakers such as William Hill , Paddy Power and Ladbrokes.

They have risen since the company rejected a 950p per share offer from private equity firm CVC in May 2013.

Corcoran was chief operating officer at Paddy Power before joining Betfair in 2012. He played down speculation that he could succeed Paddy Power chief executive Patrick Kennedy who is stepping down next year. "I'm very happy here and very busy here," he said. "I don't think my friends in Dublin would have me back," he joked.