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Gaming Giant Will Unveil Net Strategy This Week

Littlewoods, the giant retail leisure group and Britain's biggest privately-owned company, will this week unveil its new Internet strategy in a move which could see one of its main divisions floated.

In recent months the Liverpool-based group has been working to develop a new leisure focus in the wake of plummeting sales that saw turnover drop by 12 percent to $160.6 million in the half-year to October 31.

But on Monday Littlewoods is expected to detail new online gaming plans, working closely with British Telecom's (BT's) Internet arm and in a strategy that, it claims, will 'revolutionise the face of betting, pools and lottery in the U.K.'

Speculation is also rife that the company is realigning its retail and leisure activities before floating off one of the divisions, if not both.

Littlewoods recently dropped out of the bidding to run the next National Lottery, though existing operator Camelot has confirmed that it has signed a separate contract with the betting group as part of its bid to retain the weekly draw.

Meanwhile the thrust of Littlewoods' online betting strategy is likely to be 'Bet Direct', its telephone betting arm that already claims a big slice of the football betting market. The company's existing football pools web site is also in the process of being revamped.

Littlewoods, owned by the 30 descendants of its founder John Moores, is the latest betting company to tap into Internet-based gambling.

Rivals such as Ladbrokes, William Hill and Victor Chandler all have offshore betting web sites, allowing U.K. punters to avoid gaming tax. But it is a mechanism that has already caught the eye of chancellor Gordon Brown who may introduce a clampdown in his budget later this month.

However it is thought that Littlewoods will keep its online gaming presence firmly on British soil, possibly linking Bet Direct's operations with those of Arena Leisure - owner of Lingfield Park and itself a big player in the Internet revolution.



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