William Hill rules out Rank takeover

U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc. announced a nice profit increase for a challenging year in 2006, and said it expects more of the same for 2007. One thing 2007 won't include, however: a bid for online bingo and casino operator Rank Group Plc.

In a conference call with media outlets Monday, Chief Executive David Harding said he was pleased with the company's results given the "challenging second half" to the year, but made clear a Rank takeover was not on the priority list.

"It's not on the agenda," he told reporters. "I've said in the past I believe the multi-platform business is the logical endgame for gambling in the U.K.

"But I think if you look at the way casino regulation has panned out and the entrance now of both American and Asian players into that market, it's exceedingly unlikely that model is going to evolve in the next few years."

The company posted profits of £292.2 million and a 19% increase in its core earnings for 2006, due largely to a strong betting season for the World Cup, but allowed it could have been better.

"When the U.S. closed down, a number of firms relocated to Costa Rica," Harding said, "so you saw a flight to Costa Rican-based sites - not just from American players but also some European players, so that hit our poker business harder than we'd expected."

Harding also indicated the company plans to spend £10 million on new betting shops in Spain and Italy now that gambling laws have been relaxed there.

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