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Deals over dividends: Ladbrokes owner Entain saves cash for acquisitions

Randy Mancini 23 Mar 3
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a branch of Ladbrokes in London
FILE PHOTO: A pedestrian walks past a branch of Ladbrokes in London, Britain December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

March 3, 2022

By Sachin Ravikumar

(Reuters) – Entain will use excess cash on acquisitions this year rather than shareholder payouts, the British gambling firm said on Thursday, as it reported higher annual earnings boosted by the popularity of online betting during lockdowns.

Entain, which owns Ladbrokes and Coral betting shops as well as online brands bwin and partypoker, did not declare a dividend for the second straight year after pandemic uncertainties led it to withhold a payout last year.

“The board decided that right now, we want to keep our balance sheet strong and keep our flexibility to continue acquiring,” Chief Financial Officer Rob Wood said in an interview.

Entain has made seven acquisitions in the last 14 months, compared with roughly one deal per year previously, Wood noted, as it aims to triple the size of its business by expanding into more regulated betting markets and in areas like e-sports and sports betting.

“But, that said, we are absolutely going to resume dividends,” Wood said, adding Entain would review doing that at a later stage.

Shares in FTSE 100-listed Entain climbed as much as 4.6% on Thursday. They were up 3% at 1,606 pence at 1130 GMT.

The company’s core earnings climbed 4.6% to 881.7 million pounds ($1.18 billion) in 2021, topping analysts’ average estimate of 874.4 million pounds, according to Refinitiv. Revenue from online net gaming jumped 12% year-on-year.

“As we start 2022 we see retail heading towards pre-COVID levels and online performing in line with expectations against tough prior year comparables,” Entain said in a statement.

Its results follow a year in which both U.S. rival DraftKings and casino operator MGM made takeover approaches for Entain, though neither resulted in a deal.

In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Entain noted it had no operations in either country, although it makes a “very small amount of revenue” from Ukraine.

($1 = 0.7454 pounds)

(Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Mark Potter)