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UPDATE 1-Stay-home poker players, gamers boost Flutter H1 earnings

* Temporarily shuttered betting shops sees big shift online

* Significant increase in active customers betting low

* Flutter targets investment in U.S, PokerStars, online push (Adds detail, share price, CEO quotes)

DUBLIN, Aug 27 (Reuters) - Half-year earnings at Paddy Power, Betfair and PokerStars owner Flutter Entertainment rose 35% year-on-year as a jump in poker and gaming players more than compensated for a global sports shutdown at the world’s largest online betting group.

The COVID-19 pandemic called a two-month halt to sports fixtures from mid-March, with events popular with gamblers such as the English Premier League put on hold.

However the Irish betting group said favourable sports results in the first quarter, the continuation of horse racing in Australia and a jump in the number of people playing poker and gaming online boosted revenues and earnings.

“Ultimately when no other form of entertainment is open to people, they couldn’t go out to bars, restaurants, couldn’t go to concerts, people were spending small amounts of money (on online gambling),” Chief Executive Peter Jackson told reporters.

Jackson said he was not concerned about growth in problem gambling as the amounts staked were low and Flutter has increased interventions with reckless gamblers.

Flutter shares were 2% higher at 142 euros by 0745 GMT after adjusted core earnings (EBITDA) rose to 684 million pounds, including 2019 and 2020 Stars Group Inc (TSG) revenue, with which it completed a $6 billion merger in May.

That exceeded the group’s expectations and trading to date in the second half was reported as encouraging, boosted by factors including a condensed soccer calendar and gaming resilience as customers swapped betting shops for mobile phone apps.

Assuming no further material disruption to sporting events, Flutter expected full year EBITDA of between 1.175 to 1.325 million pounds, excluding a forecast 140 to 160 million pound U.S. loss after heavy investment in the fast-growing market.

Flutter raised 800 million pounds via a share placement in May to help drive growth as more U.S. states relax betting rules. It will also spend to improve PokerStars and temp more gamblers online across the group, it said on Thursday. (Reporting by Padraic Halpin. Editing by Carmel Crimmins and Barbara Lewis)

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