LONDON (Reuters) - British bookmaker William Hill took a step towards full control of its fast growing online joint venture on Friday, requesting a valuation for the 29 percent minority stake held by partner Playtech.
The company, Britain's largest bookmaker, said group operating profit rose 26 percent in the 13 weeks to September 25 and was 17 percent higher in the year to date. Its closest rival Ladbrokes reported flat third quarter profit on Thursday.
"We are also announcing today that we intend to commence the valuation process relating to the minority share in William Hill Online prior to making a decision on this by the end of the first quarter of 2013," Chief Executive Ralph Topping said.
The William Hill Online unit was set up in December 2008 as a joint venture with software group Playtech. It made an operating profit of 106.8 million pounds last year and reported a 42 percent rise in profit in the third quarter of 2012.
Both sides will be allowed to hire a bank to try to set a valuation for the stake, which analysts say could be worth up to 400 million pounds ($645 million).
Playtech said it was committed to a smooth handover of the stake should William Hill decide to exercise its buyout option.
William Hill also announced management changes in the Online business, putting Andrew Lee in charge as managing director. Lee joined William Hill in March and has been running its mobile operations.
The betting firm is already seeking to buy online gaming company Sportingbet in a 530 million pound deal with smaller company GVC Holdings.
William Hill wants to gets its hands on Sportingbet's Australian operations as part of an international expansion which has seen it buy three businesses in the U.S. state of Nevada.
($1 = 0.6199 British pounds)
(Reporting by Keith Weir, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)