Bookmaker Ladbrokes said it would maintain its dividend at last year's level despite a big drop in first quarter operating profit. 

Ladbrokes, Britain's second largest bookmaker, reported operating profit of £18.4m in the first three months of 2014, down from £37.4m a year ago. 

In common with other bookmakers, Ladbrokes has been hit by big payouts on two weekends when many of the top soccer teams won. It is also having to invest in upgrading its online service to try to make up lost ground on larger rival William Hill.
A series of profit downgrades over the past two years have piled pressure on chief executive Richard Glynn.

"Our financial performance remains consistent with our expectations at the time of our annual results announcement in February," Glynn said in a statement.
"We now have in place all of the operational infrastructure from which to drive growth in H2 and beyond," he added.
Ladbrokes said it was committed to a dividend payout this year of at least 8.9 pence per share, in line with 2013.          

Meanwhile, the UK government today announced measures to tighten controls on betting shops and the high stakes gambling machines that are one of their main attractions.

The machines account for around £1.5 billion of annual revenues for bookmakers including William Hill, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power. 

Local councils will be able to refuse applications by bookmakers to open new shops on the high street in a change to planning laws, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport said. 

Customers who want to spend more than £50 on high stakes machines will be required to pay over the counter in shops before they play, rather than being able to feed the money in directly. 

The betting industry has been fighting a rearguard action against critics who claim the machines, offering games like roulette, fuel problem gambling. 

There have also been criticisms that too many betting shops are clustered in close proximity to each other on high streets in the UK.