All bets are off (sort of) ... and other bookmaker news of week

By Martin Green30 December 2018
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prince harry and meghan markle

Paddy Power has been forced to suspend betting on Meghan Markle giving birth to twins after a flurry of wagers came in. “We saw an almost identical pattern of betting before the announcements of the couple’s engagement and pregnancy," said a spokesperson for the Irish bookmaker. “An unprecedented amount of bets on Meghan and Harry to have twins has forced us to stop taking bets on the market altogether this morning. Since the day began, the stream of bets has led us to believe that perhaps the punters – or an insider source – knows something more than we do.” The Daily Star claims that one high-ranking courtier was even amongst those to place a bet on the outcome.

Three former directors at Ladbrokes Coral have missed out on combined dividends of £7.4 million due to the UK government’s clampdown on fixed odds betting terminals. GVC bought the group for £3.2 billion in March and it agreed to pay an extra 35p per share if the government did not impose new rules on FOBTs. However, the government has decided to reduce the maximum stake per spin from £100 to £2 and it will push the measure through earlier than expected. That allowed GVC to avoid an extra £676 million payment for former shareholders of Ladbrokes Coral and it sparked a rise in the firm’s share price. But it spelled bad news for former shareholders, including a trio of former executives. Carl Leaver, the chief executive at Gala Coral before its merger with Ladbrokes in 2016, was due to receive £4.1 million. Former chairman Rob Templeman, a private equity veteran, was expecting £2.6 million and former chief financial officer Paul Bowtell would have netted £689,500. However, they are all left out of pocket due to the crackdown on the FOBTs.

888 Holdings has been given a buy rating by a number of bullish market analysts, including Peel Hunt. Shares grew 3.8% over the festive period at the operator and it has drawn praise from the City for its recent performance. It recently announced that it had secured permission to expand into Sweden and it is also bolstering its United States business. The London-listed company gave a pre-close trading update before Christmas, saying it has seen continued momentum from its sports betting and casino offerings across regulated European markets, as well as the strengthening of its position in the US. Chief executive Itai Frieberger said: “During the period 888 has delivered continued progress against its strategic objectives. The group has continued to focus on driving growth in regulated markets, enhancing compliance and delivering exciting product innovation. 888 has maintained its strong momentum in casino and sport, particularly in continental European markets. 888 remain very excited by the significant long-term growth opportunities in the US market and, throughout the year, we have made significant operational progress in the region.”

The Italian senate has passed a 2019 budget that includes a 2% tax increase in online sports betting, a 5% rise in online casino tax and a 2% increase for land-based operators. Playtech has predicted that its EBITDA will fall by €20 million as a result of a controversial new Italian gambling tax. The year ahead will be interesting for Italy, as operators are facing bans on advertising and sponsorship from January, and the country is taking a hard line on gambling.