May.23 - Bookmakers are expecting a boost from gamblers using their smartphones and tablets to bet on live action during matches in next month's soccer World Cup, making it the biggest ever sporting event for bookies. As Joanna Partridge reports, it comes at a crucial time for UK operators, facing tax bills and tougher regulation of their betting shops.
Counting down to the World Cup, and Brazil's grappling with protests. Sao Paulo, host for the opening match, ground to halt during a bus workers' strike - and there have been many more demonstrations across the country. They've changed views of how much the tournament will boost Brazil's economy. Across the Atlantic, bookmakers are preparing for their biggest ever sporting event. SOUNDBITE: Terry Pattinson, Trading Director, William Hill, saying (English): "Our World Cup scorer coupon, we've got top goalscorer there and no doubt Lionel Messi at 8/1 is the favourite there." Terry Pattinson, trading director at William Hill, Britain's largest bookmaker, says for the first time they'll make more money online than in their high street shops. 50% of betting in William Hill shops is on horse racing, with football some way behind. But when it comes to the World Cup in Brazil, they're expecting some football fans to come into stores to have a flutter, but many more to be betting online while they're watching the game. William Hill's app has hit almost 2 million downloads. In the first digital World Cup, they're expecting to double their turnover from the 2010 tournament to £200 million. SOUNDBITE: Terry Pattinson, Trading Director, William Hill, saying (English): "In play betting has been the biggest growth aspect from William Hill online over the last four years and it's about half of what our sports book is right now, back four years ago it was about half of our sports book. Most of the popular bet types are around players, whether they score goals, get yellow or red cards. How many corners in a match. It's about action." The tournament comes at a crucial time for operators in Britain - facing a bigger tax bill and tighter regulation of their betting shops - which have weighed on their share prices. It's a highly competitive market and they have to work hard to differentiate themselves. Irish bookmaker Paddy Power's called it a one in four year opportunity to attract mass market customers. Russ Wiseman is from Sportingbet, an online-only bookmaker. SOUNDBITE: Russ Wiseman, Head of Media, Sportingbet, saying (English): "People are going to have more opportunities to bet on different kinds of things in different ways than they ever have before. The way that people bet on it is going to be monitored because it will probably be the driving force and the indicator as to how we market and develop our business in the future, this is kind of the catalyst." Odds on Belgium to win have never been better - in their first major tournament in years. England are currently outsiders, reflecting low expectations for the team. Hosts Brazil are favourites to score a record sixth World Cup victory, ahead of South American rivals Argentina. British bookmakers are hoping England at least make it past the group stages, to keep customers' interest.