Betting shop chain Ladbrokes bid farewell to Hilton hotels business by announcing its second best year for profits and a £4.2 billion payout to shareholders.
While the figure was lower than last year's record - down two per cent at £266.6 million - Ladbrokes said it had "strong foundations" in place after the disposal of Hilton's hotels to its US sister firm.
The move, which was completed yesterday, will reunite the Hilton company after more than 40 years apart.
In a final set of results before the split, profits before tax were up 9.9 per cent to £413.9 million on sales of £11.5 billion in 2005.
Ladbrokes, which has 2,583 shops as well as online and telephone betting services, said it was braced for an "action-packed" year with the football World Cup and the Ashes cricket series next winter.
The sale of the hotels - including the ones at Birmingham, Coventry, Warwick and Bromsgrove - and Living-Well gym chain will earn the group £3.3 billion, resulting in a final dividend of 240p a share for investors.
The FTSE 100 group, which is based in Watford will be renamed Ladbrokes on completion of the deal.
Christopher Bell, who is the new chief executive of Ladbrokes, said: "This new chapter in the company's journey prom-ises to be more exciting than any in our 120-year history.
"We have a strong brand, an excellent experienced management team, a track record of success and a clear strategy for growth."
Ladbrokes was bolstered during the year by the acquisition of Welsh book-makers chain Jack Brown.
It now has 2,282 shops in the UK and Ireland and around 300 in Belgium, while it also owns the football pools company Vernons and later this year will open its first new casino in Paddington, west London.
Operating profit in the betting division slipped by £6.2 million from last year's record figure to £266.6 million while the hotels business saw profits rise 17.9 per cent to £187.5 million.
Underlying profits in the UK & Ireland fell 3.4 per cent to £81.3 million, which it said reflected a tough first half outside of London and a weak third quarter in the capital after the July terrorist attacks.
There was profits growth of 42.1 per cent in Europe and Asia to £82.7 million, as well as a 45.9 per cent hike to £27 million in the Middle East and Asia Pacific and a 27 per cent increase in earnings in the Americas to £24 million.
Mr Bell spelled out plans to expand overseas, particularly in Europe and Asia. Online betting would be key, he said.
He said: "Egaming has been central to our strategy for a number of years and will remain so. We are in 200 countries already and we see it as a great opportunity.
The company would be looking to grow all areas of the business, from betting shops to online casinos. Acquisitions were a possibility.
Mr Bell indicated that a c onsultancy agreement announced with the China Sport Lottery (Beijing) Sales and Marketing Co. would be the first of many.
He said: "There will be two to four more in the coming months in Asia and Europe."