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Bookmakers slump on government crackdown fears

Bookmakers slump on government crackdown fears

Shares in bookmakers have tumbled after The Sunday Times reported the government was set to slash maximum stakes on controversial fixed odds betting terminals to just £2.

The government is consulting on reducing the maximum stake gamblers are allowed to place on the machines, which have been dubbed the 'crack cocaine' of high street gambling.

It has already said it will cut the limit, currently £100 to between £2 and £50. The consultation ends on Tuesday and The Sunday Times said culture secretary Matt Hancock was set to announce a £2 limit, quoting an ally of the minister.

The news sent bookmakers William Hill (WMH) and Ladbrokes Coral (LCL) tumbling to the bottom of the the FTSE 250, down 12.7% at 293.6p and 10.4% lower at 163.5p respectively.

Shares in GVC (GVC), which is set to take over Ladbrokes Coral, fell 4.3% to 898p.

Ladbrokes Coral chief executive Jim Mullen dismissed the Sunday Times article.

'The triennial review has been running for over 15 months and throughout that time there has been constant rumour and speculation about potential outcomes, of which this is yet more,' he said.

'We are very clear that stake cuts will fail to adequately address any issue of problem gambling. The industry has also always made it clear that a cut to stakes will have serious consequences - resulting in shop closures which will ultimately affect jobs, tax revenue and the funding of racing.'

Graham Spooner, analyst at The Share Centre, said the share price falls were unsurprising given the hit bookmakers could take from a dramatically lower stake limit.

'The bookmakers who realised that a cut is coming have lobbied hard for a smaller cut and suggested that some shops may have to close if the change was implemented, leading to job losses and further pressure on the high street.'

But Greg Johnson, analyst at Shore Capital, said the Sunday Times article appeared 'a little presumptious'.

'Given the government's request for more information it would have been fair to assume that the outcome was likely to be evidence based,' he said.

Most of the day's excitement was to be found on the FTSE 250, with the FTSE 100 down just two points at 7,729.

Ocado (OCDO) jumped to the top of the 'mid-cap' index, surging 13.2% to 467.4p after the online shopping business announced a deal with Canada's second largest food retailer Sobeys (SOBEF.UL).

It marks the second international tie-up in two months, after November's announcement of a deal with France's Groupe Casino (CASP.PA).

'Ocado is really delivering the goods for shareholders, after clinching another deal to licence out is online delivery platform,' said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

'Amazon's recent purchase of Whole Foods may well have been the big bang in the grocery market which flushed deals out into the open for Ocado,' he said.

'The threat of a big disruptor entering the sector puts pressure on food retailers to be on top of their game when it comes to online deliveries, and that's where Ocado comes into its own.'

Among 'small-cap' stocks, shares in Connect Group (CNCTC) tumbled 28.5% to 75.5p after the parcels and magazine distributor said the sale of its books division had fallen through.

Connect had been due to sell the division to Aurelius, but the German investors have pulled out, saying they 'can no longer compete on the current terms' as they 'can see no way of financing this transaction'.

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