Confidence in gaming shares was rocked today by charges laid against the operator BetonSports and its chief executive David Carruthers.
Party Poker owner PartyGaming fell by 17% in the top flight, while smaller company Sportingbet lost 35% of its value following the racketeering charges, which fuelled fears over the future of internet gambling in the US.
With satellite broadcaster BSkyB also 4% lower following the launch of its broadband offer, the FTSE 100 Index extended its recent downward stretch with a fall of 19.3 points to 5681.7 at the close.
The wider market was under pressure after a surprise hike in inflation raised fears of a sooner-than-expected hike in interest rates. Increasing tension in the Middle East also put pressure on the market, leaving investors to seek out safer stocks.
Utility firms benefited, with Yorkshire Water owner Kelda topping the leader board, rising more than 4% or 34p to 844p, while Severn Trent was up 27p to 1211p and Scottish and Southern Energy increased 18p to 1166p.
Tobacco companies were another safe haven with British American Tobacco ahead 20p at 1370p and Imperial Tobacco a penny stronger at 1675p.
While shares in BetonSports were suspended because of the crisis, PartyPoker owner PartyGaming was in danger of losing its place in the FTSE 100 after falling 17.75p, or 17%, to 82.25p.
Second-tier rival 888 Holdings dropped 24.5p to 168.5p and Sportingbet slumped 100p to 182p.
Elsewhere, BSkyB’s launch of broadband failed to excite investors, even though it caused rival operator Carphone Warehouse to fall 12p to 263.5p. Analysts said BSkyB’s plans looked aggressive and would break-even in 2010, rather than 2009 as some in the City had been expecting. The stock fell 23.5p to 517.5p.
Also amongst the fallers was British Airways, down 1p at 343p as it lost gains seen earlier in the session ahead of its annual meeting.
BA told investors that it had seen a 4% rise in passenger numbers in the first quarter of its financial year, adding that it had reached agreement with Gatwick-based cabin crew on work practice changes that could save £13.2m (€19.28m) a year.
Outside the top flight, HMV shares were up 3%, or 4.75p to 163.5p, as investors reacted positively to the appointment of Simon Fox as chief executive. One analyst described the former Comet executive as a “relatively heavy appointment” and that it was a positive step for the firm, which is battling against falling sales.
Elsewhere, furniture superstore MFI dropped 0.5p to 99.25p after a broker cut its target price for the company, which is due to update on its trading performance later in the week.
The biggest Footsie risers were Kelda Group up 34p at 844p, Severn Trent ahead 27p at 1221p, United Utilities up 10.5p at 637p and Capita Group ahead 7.25p at 456.5p.
The biggest fallers were PartyGaming down 17.75p at 85.25p, BSkyB off 23.5p at 517.5p, Xstrata down 75p at 1911p and Sage Group off 6.5p at 204.75p.