It may have fallen behind the field in the performance stakes, but Ladbrokes appears to have got a jump on its rivals on the issue of problem gambling by announcing plans to link the matter to executive pay.
Responding to the move, Carl Leaver, the chief executive of Gala Coral, said: “We think it is a very good idea and will look at it seriously for our next financial year.”
Richard Glynn, his counterpart at Ladbrokes, said that the new scheme was being drawn up by the group’s auditors as part of the “due process”, although he insisted that it was not simply a response to the betting terminals furore but was aimed at “making sure social responsibility in all its guises is at the heart of everything we do”.
He said: “You could quite easily say, why didn’t we do it years ago? The point is, we’re doing it now. It’s like sustainability and petrochemicals — they have to be synonymous. I think social resp-onsibility has to be synonymous with a modern betting and gaming brand.”
He said that the political focus on betting terminals was misplaced. “That’s like saying that an alcoholic, if you take vodka away, doesn’t drink whisky. Some of these people have troubles across many products. What we’ve got to do is work to make sure that we can help to control their behaviours across all betting and gaming.”
The comments came as the embattled chief executive of Ladbrokes reported a “disappointing” 66 per cent slump in pre-tax profits in 2013 to £67.6 million on the back of a dismal digital performance and a sharp fall in profits from high-rollers.
Underlying operating profits, excluding high-rollers, fell by a third to £138.3 million, in line with reduced market forecasts, although the full-year dividend was maintained at 8.9p and the group committed to pay at least the same amount this year. Profits from its British retail business, its largest division, slid by 26 per cent, and profits at its digital division fell by 74 per cent.
Mr Glynn, who took over in 2010, has effectively been given to the summer to prove that he can turn around the bookmaker, the key task being to upgrade its online operations under its agreement with Playtech, a gaming software supplier, in time for the World Cup in Brazil this year.
“I take full accountability for what happened last year,” he said. “I’ve never stepped away from doing that. I’m disappointed at how we performed last year and that the financial results are not reflective of the operational changes we made last year.”
He said that although the first half of this year would not match that of last year, partly because of a poor run of sporting results, the early signs on its new mobile, desktop and live dealing products were “encouraging”.
Shares in Ladbrokes added 3.6p to close at 154.6p.