Less of us are doing the Pools

The waning popularity of the football pools continued in the first half of this year with the Littlewoods owner yesterday revealing a 15% fall in sales.

The waning popularity of the football pools continued in the first half of this year with the Littlewoods owner yesterday revealing a 15% fall in sales.

Glasgow-based Sportech said it had 50,000 fewer punters in the UK than a year ago and it was not expecting the rate of decline in revenues to slow during the remainder of the year.

Its Littlewoods and Zetters brands capture 85% of all revenues generated by the UK football pools industry and the shrinking market contributed to Sportech reporting a decline in pre-tax profits to £5.2m from £6m before accounting for restructuring costs.

The football pools was established in 1924 and rose steadily until 1994, when it had 8m players and turned over £1bn in revenues per year.

But the launch of the National Lottery led to a mass desertion of punters and the pools industry has also suffered from the deaths of customers among its traditional base of the elderly.

The number of people playing the football pools now stands at around 700,000. In addition to its pools business, Sportech has a betting division which felt the pressure in the first half from a string of adverse sporting results.

Revenues from betting were 3% higher but victories for many of the favourites in the biggest horse races meant the gross win - turnover less winnings paid out to punters - was 8% lower at £8.7m.

Sportech has strengthened its betting division to enable it to sell its products across all its brands, launching poker and casino from its Bet Direct websites.

It has also been looking towards interactive TV to drive future revenues, with games linked to programmes such as Pop Idol and X Factor and Coronation Street.

Yesterday's results came alongside news that Ian Penrose will join the group as chief executive from racecourse owner Arena Leisure, which he has led since 2001.

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