Bid target Sportingbet says confident on year earnings

LONDON Fri Nov 30, 2012 9:01am GMT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Takeover target Sportingbet said it returned to normal trading in November after a quiet spell in the sporting calendar in its main Australian market depressed margins.

Sportingbet's market-leading position in telephone and online gaming in Australia has attracted a 530 million pound ($849 million) takeover bid from Britain's largest bookmaker, William Hill.

Total revenue for the first quarter to end-October was 35 percent lower than in the same period of 2011, Sportingbet said on Friday. Performance in October had been affected as there were only four weekends of sports fixtures compared to five a year earlier.

Australian takings rebounded in November, when Sportingbet's largest annual betting event, the Melbourne Cup, and the Australian Derby Day fell in the same month, pushing the number of bets placed up 21 percent versus the previous year.

Sportingbet said it remained confident it would meet expectations for the year to July 2013.

"After challenging trading conditions during the first quarter, I am pleased to report that November has seen a return to normal trading levels, with a particularly strong Australian sports margin," said Chief Executive Andrew McIver.

The Sportingbet board has given provisional backing to a cash and share approach from William Hill and smaller partner GVC Holdings valuing Sportingbet at 61.1p per share.

Shares in Sportingbet slipped 1.63 percent to 45.25 pence after the statement was released.

The latest deadline for a formal offer is next Tuesday although this can be extended.

William Hill is mainly interested in the Australian operations, while GVC would take on the business in countries where regulations are less clear-cut.

It is not clear who would take on operations in sports-made Spain where amounts wagered fell 57 percent in local currency after regulatory changes. New licences issued in Spain this year have increased competition for gaming businesses.

(Reporting By Isla Binnie; editing by Keith Weir)

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