Bookmaker William Hill said its profits for last year are likely to be above expectations as it looks forward to a strong 2006 buoyed by betting on the World Cup.

The City had earlier indicated that the group, which is neck-and-neck with Ladbrokes as the UK's biggest bookie, would make pre-tax profits of between £230 million and £240 million before exceptional items.

But in its first trading update since it was relegated from the FTSE 100 Index to the FTSE 250 Index last month, William Hill said it expected profits to be "slightly in excess of the previously indicated range" for the year to December 27 2005.

It also said it was confident about its prospects for 2006 - buoyed by the roll-out of new technology and the prospect of heavy football betting in June and July.

In May 2005, the bookie paid £504 million for 624 Stanley Leisure betting shops but was ordered to sell-off 50 stores by the Office of Fair Trading.

The successful integration of the Stanley Retail Betting businesses and roll-out of electronic points of sale and text systems were expected to be beneficial in 2006, the group said.

"In addition, the football World Cup is likely to provide additional revenue and customer acquisition opportunities," it added.

In November the company lowered full-year profit expectations, saying it had suffered from unfavourable sporting results in common with other betting-shop chains.

The firm was aided by the luck of one racing tipster in particular beginning to run out. Chief operating officer Tom Singer said during an extraordinary summer, Tom Segal tipped a winner on ten consecutive Saturdays in his Pricewise column in the Racing Post newspaper, including one at 20-1 odds.

"That hurt us in July and August," Mr Singer said.

"Although the bookies were due a run of better form we remain concerned about the underlying structural issues at work within the industry," Merrill Lynch said in a broker note. "Continuing trading volatility and integration risk provide further uncertainty in the near term."

William Hill shares closed up 22.5p at 558p.