By Rosalba O'Brien
LONDON (Reuters) - European online betting firms' previous U.S. experience and their record of expanding abroad will give them the edge over rivals when the U.S. market reopens this year, said Britain's 888 Holdings Plc.
U.S. legislators had clamped down on internet betting in 2006 when it was explicitly barred by Congress, dealing a blow to online gaming companies who had set up there and driving them elsewhere in their quest for growth.
But the legal position in the United States is changing, opening the way for online gambling companies to return. National legislation is set to be introduced in the spring, superseding moves by some states to legalise internet gaming.
888 anticipates one of the states will open up by the third quarter of 2013, probably Nevada or New Jersey - home to gambling centres Las Vegas and Atlantic City - the company's chief executive Brian Mattingley told Reuters on Wednesday.
"I do believe that the European operators, in particular bwin.party and ourselves, are best placed to operate within those markets, we've already done that," Mattingley said.
888 was a major participant in the U.S. market prior to 2006.
888, which operates casino, poker and bingo games via the internet, launched in Spain in 2012 following the award of the country's first online licences in June.
The experience was "a blueprint for going into new territories," Mattingley said. "I do think that we stand a very good chance of actually coming out of the blocks very quickly."
Mattingley said 888, which said on Monday it had signed a deal with Las Vegas operator Treasure Island to launch online poker in Nevada, anticipated taking a "very significant market share" in the state once it had secured a licence, approval for which now looks likely.
The company reported earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) of $67 million (44 million pounds) in the year through December 2012, compared with consensus forecasts of $66.5 million (44.4 million pounds), up 20 percent on the previous year.
The group said trading had started strongly in 2013, with average daily revenue 8 percent higher than a year ago.
Its shares were down 3.4 percent at 155.5p by 0909 GMT, backtracking from a seven-year peak of 183.3p set last week. The stock remains well below its 2006 record high of 263p.
(Editing by Paul Sandle and David Holmes)