Ladbrokes suffers worst Cheltenham Festival in memory

Cheltenham Festival Image copyright PA

Bookmaker Ladbrokes has said this year's Cheltenham Festival was its "worst in living memory".

All bookmakers were hit by a string of favourites winning at the festival, but Ladbrokes also argued that rivals were offering bets at levels that did not make business sense.

Ladbrokes also confirmed that it has a £3m liability if Leicester City win the Premier League.

Despite this, the company said it had seen an encouraging start to the year.

Revenue was more than 10% higher.

Chief executive Jim Mullen said: "At Cheltenham we were reminded of the intense competition with offers and pricing at levels which, in our view, abandoned bookmaking principles.

"We competed hard but refused to pursue unsustainable strategies."

He told the BBC gambling was for his customers, not his business: "I've always said we're in the gambling business, we don't gamble... I thought Cheltenham was a race to the bottom."

The company said the Grand National winner, Rule The World, which was a 33/1 shot, delivered a welcome contrast to Cheltenham.

Ladbrokes said it was "confident" that its results would be in line with expectations.

'Recreational punter'

Last year Ladbrokes announced plans to merge with its smaller rival, Coral.

UK competition authorities are currently looking at the deal.

Steve Clayton, analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown stockbrokers, said the latest trading statement from Ladbrokes was encouraging, but the real issue was whether the merger with Coral would be allowed: "A merged Ladbrokes and Coral will have a dominant retail position, even if many shops have to be sold off.

"We expect substantial cost saving will be possible because there will be vast areas of overlap and unnecessary duplication of functions across the combined business."

Ladbrokes is pursuing a different strategy to that of its competitors by focussing on customer service and the occasional punter, who will not necessarily hunt for the best odds.

Mr Clayton said: "The bookmaker's strategy is to focus on the 'recreational punter', in other words the still soft and malleable, unhardened gamblers out there.

"These people do not know what the right odds should be, so it is easier to build a fat win margin into the bookmaker's terms."

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