The Motley Fool

Are Ladbrokes PLC, William Hill plc Or Playtech PLC Worth A Flutter?

Some people believe that investing is a science. Others think it is art. In some cases, it can be a pure gamble. With these betting stocks, you combine all three.

Jack The LAD

Sometimes you sell a stock and never look back. That is what I have done since offloading Ladbrokes (LSE: LAD) two years ago. Its performance was so sluggish, and prospects so hazy, that I didn’t think I was missing anything. And I wasn’t, at least until recently, when the share price finally showed some spirit to surge 35% over the last six months.

Ladbrokes is still trailing the field when it comes to online gambling, as it was when I sold. It does now generate 20% of its revenues from the net these days, but it is still missing a trick, with Paddy Power reckoning that 90% of growth will come from mobile.

Ladbrokes’ merger with Coral may make it the UK’s largest bookmaker, with around 4,000 high street betting shops (assuming it gets regulatory approval on 24 June), but when it comes to online business it will be outmatched by the newly-merged might of Paddy Power Betfair.

The enlarged Ladbrokes may generate £65m but it will also start life with £1.3bn of gambling-related debts, and I don’t fancy those odds.

William, it was really nothing

Here’s something else that hasn’t changed: rival William Hill (LSE: WMH) continues to thrash Ladbrokes. Over five years, William Hill’s share price has grown 166%, compared with just 0.22% for Ladbrokes.

William Hill’s 2015 net revenues fell 1% to £1.59bn, although group operating profit crept up by 2%, to £291.4m,  before additional UK gambling duties of £87m were taken into account, which converted this into a 22% loss.

These results looked bad against after a highly successful 2014, but management is confident about the future, with chief executive James Henderson talking up the company’s omni-channel strategy, technological innovations and Australian growth plans, and unveiling a share buy back as well.

William Hill remains solid, but trading at 16.6 times earnings and yielding 3.09%, I feel there must be better punts out there.

Play the game

Investors in online gaming specialist Playtech  (LSE: PTEC) have also been onto a winner with the share price up 139% over the last five years. Its full-year 2015 results show why, with management hailing “another year of double-digit underlying revenue growth“, with revenues up 38% to €630m on a reported basis.

With a cash balances of €857.9m its gaming division is lining up potential acquisitions, and if they fall through, the company may return cash to shareholders instead.

There is always a price to pay for success and in the case of Playtech it is 16.55 times earnings, which is more tempting than William Hill’s similar valuation. The yield is just 2.45%, but at least management has just rewarded investors by hiking the dividend by 8%, against just 2.5% at William Hill, and a cut from 8.9p to just 3p per share at Ladbrokes.

Playtech chairman Alan Jackson’s outlook for 2016 is notably more bullish than anything Ladbrokes and William Hill can muster, and Playtech looks the best bet of the three.

I reckon there is an even more exciting flutter on the UK stock market today.

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Harvey Jones has no position in any shares mentioned. The Motley Fool UK has no position in any of the shares mentioned. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.