By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - London-listed 888 Holdings announced plans on Tuesday to launch online poker and casino games under its own brand in New Jersey this year when the state ends a ban on Internet gambling, entering a crowded field.
Internet betting was banned by Congress in 2006, dealing a blow to companies like 888 which had set up in the United States. However, tax-hungry states are now relaxing rules, creating opportunities for European players with years of expertise in the sector.
888 already has an agreement to make its technology available to U.S. company Caesars Interactive Entertainment, one of a number of Atlantic City casino operators who are preparing to move into the online market.
But 888 CEO Brian Mattingley said targeting New Jersey's gamblers with its own brand should allow it to maximize revenues from the largest and most lucrative of the three U.S. states that are opening up their markets.
"We are providing the platform for Caesars but we are providing the one-stop shop that 888 is renowned for across Europe," he said.
"We are extremely well positioned in the US and are working with the regulators in Nevada, Delaware and New Jersey as these three states become ready to open," he added.
Ralph Topping, chief executive of leading British bookmaker William Hill, warned last week that fierce initial competition for consumers in New Jersey risked creating a "bit of a bloodbath."
Mattingley would not be drawn on 888's marketing budget for New Jersey but said it would be carefully controlled.
He said analyst forecasts for total annual gaming revenues of $450 million from New Jersey looked a "bit rich" but would not put an exact figure on the size of the market.
888 said its second-quarter revenues rose 5 percent to $97 million and that third-quarter trading was so far in line with its expectations.
888 shares added 1.4 percent to 171.9p by 0755 GMT on Tuesday, valuing the company at just under 600 million pounds.
The shares have more than doubled over the past year, driven by optimism about the impact of liberalization in the United States.
(Reporting by Keith Weir, Editing by Paul Sandle and Jane Merriman)
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