As if Ladbrokes’ online problems were not bad enough, the group must contend with gathering squalls around the mother ship of the business, the retail shops and their lucrative digital betting machines.
Operating profits in 2013 at the 2,300 UK shops were down 25.9 per cent, a decline in part attributed to a new machine games duty introduced last year.
But after years of growth in the machines’ income, which has fuelled a continuing increase in the number of shops and the size of the machines estate, the performance of the terminals has begun to slow, as competition has intensified.
“The rate of growth of machines has slowed quite dramatically,” said chief executive Richard Glynn.
That is a difficult pill for investors to swallow at a time when the government and opposition are both talking up concerns about machine-related problem gambling and the need to consider tighter regulations.
That debate has fuelled volatility in the share price of Ladbrokes, William Hill and other operators. Ladbrokes’ shares have fallen 16 per cent since early January when prime minister David Cameron raised the prospect of action to curb machine use.
“As things stand, the returns are not as compelling as they where,” said analyst David Jennings of Davy Research.
Ladbrokes has announced that it will close a net 40-50 shops in 2014, eliminating non-performing shops.
That could be a signal to politicians looking at problem gambling that any decision on tighter regulations could also have consequences for jobs.
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