By Keith Weir
LONDON (Reuters) - Gambling company 888 Holdings Plc expects to launch online poker in Nevada this summer and should start to see the full effects of more open U.S. markets from 2015.
Nevada, home to gambling centre Las Vegas, granted the London-listed company a licence last month and 888 is also seeking clearance to operate in New Jersey, another state where a ban on Internet betting is being lifted.
"In Nevada we are awaiting final sign-off by the gaming control board on our software," 888 CEO Brian Mattingley told Reuters on Tuesday, adding that its online poker product should be live by the third quarter.
Mattingley was optimistic that New Jersey, another centre for land-based American gambling, might clear the way for both online casino and poker games when detailed legislation is finalised, rather than limiting it to poker as is the case in Nevada.
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.
"I imagine we will start to see some really influential numbers to our business from 2015," said Mattingley, adding that next year would involve a lot of marketing spending as companies jostle for position in the United States.
A strong performance in Spain and Italy fuelled a nine percent rise in revenues to $103 million in the first three months of the year, 888 said.
Business in Italy had been boosted after the government allowed companies to offer online slot machine products which are popular with gamblers playing Internet casino games.
Mattingley said he hoped Spain would follow suit by lifting a ban on slots - effectively the online version of "one-arm bandit" arcade games.
"Once you prohibit something, you open the door to illegal trading. The Italians saw a huge amount of tax revenue disappearing," he said.
The company planned to offer online sports betting in both Italy and Spain by the summer, Mattingley added.
888 shares rose 0.7 percent to 167.7 pence by 0815 GMT.
The prospects for a return to the United States helped drive a doubling in 888's share price since the middle of 2012 and the company is now worth almost 600 million pounds ($915 million). ($1 = 0.6560 British pounds)
(Writing by Keith Weir; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)