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Gambling firm 888 forecasts upbeat earnings as sports events...

"Irvin Snoddy" (2020-07-28)

June 26 (Reuters) - Online gambling firm 888 Holdings on Friday forecast full-year adjusted core earnings significantly ahead of expectations as more users came on board, sports events returned and its poker business performed well.

Shares in the FTSE-250 company jumped 15.6% by 0837 GMT to a seven-month high of 174.4 pence and topped the midcap leaderboard.

Gambling companies have seen a mixed impact from the coronavirus pandemic, which shut down one big cash cow - competitive sport - globally but encouraged customers to play more poker and bingo to relieve boredom.

The company said its average daily revenue so far this year has been 34% higher than last year, adding that it has benefited from a structural shift towards online services.

"Lockdown has been negative for gambling revenue overall, but it has clearly accelerated the lane change to online. 888, in the race-tuned online casino, has been well-placed to push down on the marketing accelerator and take the lead," Peel Hunt analysts said.

Bookmakers, including 888 and William Hill, have also been helped by the return of horseracing as well as UK's Premier League and Germany's Bundesliga in recent weeks.

"We have seen a better-than-expected customer reaction to the gradual return of sports events during recent weeks and, during June so far, our sport revenue run-rate has been ahead of June 2019," 888 Chief Executive Officer Itai Pazner said.

The company had flagged growing risks of gambling-related harm in May as more stuck-at-home Europeans were betting online amid nationwide lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

(Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V and Anil D'Silva)

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