Ladbrokes targets Asia for sports betting expansion

Since the UK's Hilton Group announced the completion of the $5.71 billion sale of its intermational hotel arm to the US-based Hilton Hotels Corporation, leaving the company as a betting business to be renamed Ladbrokes Group, CEO Chris Bell has flagged the Asian market as a major expansion prospect. “I will say that the focus is on Asia and on Europe. But I can’t say any more. I haven’t spent the past five years on aeroplanes to these places just so that our competitors can get out there first,” he told Matthew Goodman in the Sunday Times (UK).

The first indication on this was the announcement of a consultancy deal with China Sport Lottery, the first sports lottery pool betting shops in Beijing which, Ladbrokes says, is projected to be worth $4 billion this year. "Ladbrokes has talked about its international aspirations and while this is a very small step into China it is also an encouraging one," Bell told Bloomberg News. However, the the prospect of Ladbrokes opening its own shops in the world’s most populous nation is still some way off. “It’s part of the vision but it’s not [on the agenda] for now. It is not something that will happen in the next few years,” he said.

The United States represents the other big opportunity, particularly online. According to Bell, Ladbrokes has resisted taking internet bets from American customers because online gambling is illegal in America and there were fears a backlash might affect the Hilton hotel brand. That could change after an internal review. “No longer being part of Hilton makes it a little less complex, but it is still a complex issue. Sports betting is not a possibility, it’s illegal. But gaming — casino games and poker — is a possibility and that’s what we will be reviewing,” Bell said.

The internet will also continue to provide a significant part of Ladbrokes’ growth. The results showed that the e-gaming arm almost doubled its operating profits last year.

Earlier, Ladbrokes predicted that the betting industry will turn over £1 billion during the 2006 World Cup Finals in Germany. The worldwide industry saw over £250 million wagered on the last tournament in Japan and Korea in 2002, but developments in betting technology, greater access to the internet and more sociable kick off times are likely to see that figure quadruple, according to the firm. Ladbrokes spokesman Robin Hutchison told Betting Business (January 2006) that "the whole sports betting industry is about to go stratospheric. The last World Cup was big and Euro 2004 bigger but neither will be anything like this year’s festivities."

See also: Ladbrokes tips 400% increase in World Cup betting (31 Jan)