By Radhika Anilkumar and Yadarisa Shabong
(Reuters) -British gambling group Entain warned of lower core profit margins in 2023 as it exits unregulated markets and faces regulatory headwinds and higher costs for wages and energy in the United Kingdom.
The shares fell nearly 5% by 0935 GMT, as the owner of Ladbrokes, Coral and bwin forecast core profit margins of about 26% for 2023, down from 2022, although still ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
Gambling companies have benefited from betting shops reopening in the past year, but declining online revenue, stiffer regulation for online gambling in Britain and the Netherlands and a cost-of-living crisis pose challenges for the industry.
Britain in recent years has introduced rules, including stricter age and identity checks for online gambling and more support for those who become addicted.
The British government is expected to publish a white paper in coming weeks that may pave the way for tougher regulation in the gambling industry.
Entain's smaller British rival 888, whose boss quit and whose Middle Eastern VIP activity was suspended pending an internal probe in January, also flagged weakness at its online business following the tightened online player safety measures in the UK.
Entain has spent millions of pounds in making several acquisitions, including five in 2022, when it expanded into Canada, the Netherlands and other parts of Europe.
Chief Financial Officer Rob Wood said in a presentation on Thursday that mergers and acquisitions remained key to the company's growth strategy.
It has also exited a number of unregulated markets and was now fully focused on nationally regulated or regulating markets.
Entain reported underlying core earnings of 993 million pounds ($1.18 billion) for the year ended Dec. 31, compared with 881.7 million pounds in the year-ago period.
Analysts on average had forecast an underlying core profit of 975 million pounds, according to a company compiled consensus.
(Reporting by Radhika Anilkumar in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Sharon Singleton)