Flutter shares dive as UK lockdown gambling boom ends

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN, March 1 (Reuters) – Flutter posted an 11% fall in 2021 earnings as easing COVID-19 lockdowns lowered demand, sending shares in the world’s largest online betting firm down 10% on Tuesday.

Flutter cut its full year core earnings guidance, excluding its heavy investment in the United States, to between 1.24 billion pounds ($1.66 billion) and 1.28 billion in November after a run of high profile results from Premier League soccer to heavyweight boxing filled punters’ pockets.

Adjusted EBITDA at the owner of Paddy Power, Betfair and FanDuel came in at 1.24 billion pounds, 11% lower than the record 1.4 billion in 2020.

Flutter also cited regulatory changes and increased spending on initiatives to curb gambling addiction for the dip in earnings.Bookmakers generally suffer when favourites win and adverse sports results cost 149 million pounds in the fourth quarter.

While the number of average monthly customers jumped by 23% to 7.6 million, continuing a surge that began during lockdown, gambling patterns in Flutter’s main market of the UK returned to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, Chief Executive Peter Jackson told reporters.

Flutter kept its No.1 position in the rapidly growing U.S.market with a 40% share, down from 42% at the end of September. Revenue of 1.4 billion pounds, up 113% year-on-year, was nearly 50% higher than its nearest competitor, Flutter said.

The Dublin-based group expects to turn the 243 million-pound loss in earnings in the U.S.into a profit next year for the first time since a ban on sports betting was lifted in 2018.

The number of bets FanDuel took for last month’s Super Bowl, buckcreekfestival the biggest event in the U.S. sporting calendar, doubled to 8 million, while its app was the second most downloaded behind Comcast Corp Peacock, which streamed American Football’s showpiece game.

“It was a real watershed moment for FanDuel, really breaking through to the mainstream in the U.S,” Jackson said.

Assuming a normal run of sports results, Flutter expects revenue growth to accelerate in 2022 across the group from the 2% year-on-year rise in the first seven weeks of the year.

Goodbody Stockbrokers analyst Gavin Kelleher said he was inclined to reduce his 2022 EBITDA forecast by 7% after the “mixed update”.(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; editing by Jason Neely and Ed Osmond)

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