INVESTORS wiped more than $290 million off the value of major gaming companies Tabcorp and Tattersall's today, after the pair warned earnings could be affected by a horse-racing industry shutdown.
Smaller rival, online betting firm Centrebet International Ltd also lost value after weekend thoroughbred and harness race meetings were cancelled in a bid to contain an outbreak of highly infectious equine influenza that has rattled the industry.
But the companies signalled that any losses weren't likely to be huge, allowing the stocks to end the day off their lows.
Tabcorp's wagering division turnover was cut by $65 million after the weekend races were called off.
The company said if the shut down was prolonged to next weekend, the turnover loss would be around $150 million.
"This will translate to an adverse impact on Tabcorp's group earnings of approximately $5 million after tax,'' it said.
Tabcorp made a net profit of $450.4 million in 2006/07, after its wagering business generated underlying earnings of $253.7 million.
If races were suspended for even longer, the effect on Spring carnival racing from September would exacerbate lost turnover and earnings, it said.
Tabcorp chief executive Elmer Funke Kupper reassured investors, saying the business, which includes gaming and casinos, was diversified enough to weather the flu crisis.
He said the company supported the actions of the racing industries and state governments to control the virus.
"The measures taken, while painful in the short term, will protect the future of a great industry,'' Mr Funke Kupper said.
Federal Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said today that at least 70 properties, mostly in NSW, are suspected of being infected with equine influenza.
"We would expected considerably more properties to be identified in the coming days,'' he said.
Tabcorp shares closed down 20 cents or 1.26 per cent $15.63, Tattersall's lost 14 cents or 2.83 per cent to $4.81 and Centrebet shed nine cents or 4.74 per cent to $1.81.
Meanwhile, Tabcorp is working with its racing partners in Australia and overseas to adjust racing product on Sky pay television, increasing the number of New Zealand races being, and rescheduling several greyhound meetings for punters.
But it said underlying earnings could be affected in the ban on horse racing continued.
If the situation continued, the potential weekly loss in gross earnings would be about $2 million.
Tattersall's said its UNiTAB business was monitoring the impact on its TAB operations in Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia.
Centrebet said if the ban lasted a month, it could wipe $400,000 off its fiscal 2008 net profit.
"This is on the basis that all horse and harness races are cancelled and not postponed, which is a possibility being considered by the authorities,'' it said.
But Centrebet said it expected the impact would be mitigated by an increase in New Zealand and international horse-race betting, extra greyhound race meetings and an increase in sports betting.
Centrebet today reported a net profit of $11.13 million for 2006/07 and maintained is guidance for earnings per share growth of 10 to 15 per cent this financial year.
The fiscal 2007 result followed a 26 per cent lift in revenue to $58.9 million amid strong growth in both its wagering and gaming business.