CURITIBA, Brazil, June 24 (Reuters) - England’s early exit from the World Cup is a setback for Britain’s bookmakers who had been hoping for a bumper soccer tournament, in part to cushion them from the impact of new taxes.
However, bookies say it’s not the end of the world, with the excitement generated by a series of thrilling matches helping keep gamblers engaged despite England’s poor showing.
William Hill, Britain’s largest bookmaker, had forecast turnover from the month-long tournament would rise to 200 million pounds ($340 million), double the figure when the World Cup was last played in 2010.
“We’re pleased with turnover levels so far and our pre-tournament targets still remain achievable,” said spokeswoman Kate Miller. “We will lose the spike around England matches, but we were always realistic about their likely performance.”
Overall bookmakers say it is too early to draw many conclusions from the tournament, with the thrills of the knockout stages still to come. What is certain is the industry is going through a challenging period.
Bookies in Britain are grappling with tighter regulation and an additional tax burden of almost 400 million pounds over the coming year - moves that have weighed heavily on their share prices. William Hill for instance has fallen from last November’s peak of 495 pence to trade at 331.8p by 1520 GMT on Tuesday, down 1 percent on the day.
Bookmakers are not the only casualties of England’s flop. British bars and pubs have also seen any expectations of a bumper summer dashed by the team’s failure to make it through the tournament’s first round.
England were eliminated after losing their first two games, rendering Tuesday’s meeting with Costa Rica academic and reducing the sums wagered on the match.
William Hill’s rival Ladbrokes and betting exchange Betfair had also made allowances for a poor showing from England, their biggest market.
Ladbrokes offered to refund some losing bets from England’s 2-1 defeat against Uruguay to encourage punters to stick with the tournament. Betfair adopted a similar tactic.
“We are hopeful interest will remain high given the number of goals in the tournament and the free-flowing football,” said Ladbrokes spokesman Ciaran O‘Brien.
The World Cup is a chance for bookies to build market share before the costly tax changes take effect and companies have been advertising hard and pushing new smartphone apps to lure punters.
The Brazilian sporting drama feeds a surge in soccer gambling, which rivals horse racing as the main online revenue earner for bookies. It also extends the soccer season into the British summer, normally a quiet time for the sport.
The tournament has also confirmed the trend for placing bets on live action during games, or “in play” betting, and the growing use of tablet or mobiles phones.
Bookmakers are looking for outsiders to spring surprises to ensure they don’t have to keep paying out on the favourites. Draws also help them, but there have been relatively few of them in the competition.
“Costa Rica and Chile have been the bookmakers’ friends in the group stages,” said Betfair spokesman James Midmer. “Both have taken down some previously well fancied teams.”
Costa Rica made the last 16 after beating former champions Uruguay and Italy. Chile are also into the second round at the expense of defending champions Spain. ($1 = 0.5880 British Pounds) (Editing by David Holmes)