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Bookie scores big with World Cup after falling down with horses

Bookmaker William Hill said it was on track to meet full-year forecasts after the group's "best ever" World Cup offset a dire horseracing season.

The bookie lost out to punters at the Grand National and Royal Ascot, but a record World Cup helped the group report a 1% rise in half-year underlying earnings to £135.6m.

William Hill said it made £32.2m in gross winnings from the football tournament - £19.3m of which came through in the first half of its year.

Spain's victory generated a profitable return for bookmakers after the European champions' opening defeat to Switzerland deterred many punters.

Bookies also benefited from patriotic bets on a poor England team, as well as Brazil's loss to Holland in the quarter-finals and 2006 finalists France and Italy's exit at the group stage.

In the seven weeks since the half-year, net revenues across William Hill rose 26%, up 20% at its 2,350 betting shops thanks to the tail-end of the World Cup and ongoing strength in gaming machine turnover.

Analysts expect the group to deliver full-year underlying earnings of around £258m.

But William Hill said it was cautious over the outlook for the rest of 2010 and 2011, amid pressures on consumer spending, which could impact the retail estate.