World Cup in Brazil to Spur Record Gambling, Unibet CEO Predicts

Unibet Group Plc (UNIB) predicts gambling soccer fans will flock to its websites as the World Cup kicks off in Brazil on June 12, adding to record customer numbers in the first three months of the year.

The Swedish-listed, Malta-based online betting company expects an inflow of new clients and the return of old ones during the monthlong tournament, Chief Executive Officer Henrik Tjaernstroem said in a telephone interview.

“This is a real highlight -- the biggest sports event for us,” Tjaernstroem said. “We expect very high activity on our sites as this gives us a unique opportunity to reach out to a wider audience and to reactivate old customers that haven’t visited us in a while.”

Interactive Graphic: Bloomberg Visual Data

Interactive Graphic: Bloomberg Visual Data

Unibet’s number of active customers -- defined as players who have placed a bet in the past three months -- reached a record level of 552,338 in the first quarter, fueled by the UEFA soccer Champions League and European ice-hockey playoffs. The company has returned 54 percent over the last year, including reinvested dividends, compared with 23 percent for the OMX Stockholm All-Share Index.

The latest edition of the soccer World Cup, in South Africa in 2010, drew 3.2 billion viewers worldwide, with more than 900 million watching at least part of the July 11 final between the Netherlands and Spain.

Profits Rise

Still, Unibet faces uncertainty as European countries, where it has the bulk of its business, draft new regulation for the gaming industry. Present in more than 100 markets, Unibet has faced new tax rules in countries such as Denmark and Belgium. While it paid 47 percent higher betting duties in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, net income still rose 44 percent to 15.3 million pounds ($25.6 million), helped by “strong organic growth” and improved efficiency.

“We anticipate that the legal risk will decrease over time, as more and more countries move toward local legislation, with the Netherlands expected to outline new rules in early 2016,” Tjaernstroem said.

Unibet, which offers casino games and poker online as well as sports betting, said in April it will spin off its business-to-business sportsbook unit Kambi (KAMBI) to shareholders. Tjaernstroem said he won’t rule out buying companies if any interesting opportunities were to arise. The last time Unibet made an acquisition was in 2012, when it bought Bet24.

“Organic growth is still our base case scenario -- it is what we rely on -- but if we find something to add to that, we will,” Tjaernstroem said. “We get proposals almost every week, so there is always something to look at.”

Who will win the World Cup? Unibet odds show the hosts Brazil as the favorites at 4 to 1, with neighboring Argentina at 5 1/2 to 1.

To contact the reporter on this story: Veronica Ek in Stockholm at vek@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Ludden at jludden@bloomberg.net Kim McLaughlin, Niklas Magnusson

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