Tabcorp appeals for calm

ROSS Wilson yesterday signed off on the most hectic year of Tabcorp’s short history with a plea for fewer distractions over the next 12 months.

“I don’t think I’ve spent so much time in government offices,” Mr Wilson said of a year in which the wagering and gambling company faced unparalleled regulatory and government scrutiny.

Tabcorp emerged from the maelstrom with a 7 per cent rise in annual net profit to $187.7 million on a 13 per cent rise in revenues to $1.8 billion, thanks to the first full year’s contribution from Star City casino in Sydney.

Directors lifted the dividend 2 to 26 a share, fully franked and payable on September 28.

The profit was at the lower end of market expectations and sent Tabcorp shares lower, but Mr Wilson insisted the result was a good one, given the slowing economy and “all the things that happened”.

“It was the most challenging year we’ve had,” he said.

And profit growth would have been closer to 16 per cent if not for losses incurred by Star City’s volatile high-roller business, which was scrapped two months ago.

Those losses were offset by gains by the casino’s hotel, pokies and main gaming floor, enabling Star City to lift its earnings before tax and interest to $112.4 million, only $2 million down on 1999-2000.

Mr Wilson said regulatory changes, including the Victorian Government’s cap on the number of gaming machines allowed in certain areas, slowed the roll-out of new gaming venues.

Tabcorp’s pokie numbers subsequently fell by 168 over the year to 13,497, but a $15 rise in the average daily winnings to $227 a machine lifted the gaming division’s profit 8 per cent to $218.4 million.

Revenues were 6.5 per cent Togel Hongkong  better at $846.4 million.

Wagering came in 10 per cent better at $52.5 million on a 4.7 per cent improvement in revenues to $380.3 million.

Mr Wilson said the result was helped by another good Spring Racing Carnival, which saw a 6.5 per cent increase in revenues over the six-week period, and the installation of self-service kiosks at selected hotels.

Mr Wilson said the group remained alert for acquisition opportunities, but added that most were fully priced.

“If something comes up that makes sense, we would obviously pursue it,” he said. “But we are not in any hurry right now.”