BOOKMAKER Paddy Power, who courted controversy with an advertisement featuring Sunderland manager Paolo di Canio and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, says online bets have increased its half-year profits.

The Dublin-based company said profits were up by 12 per cent after online bets countered a poor Cheltenham Festival, where a third of the races were won by favourites.

The firm, which has 228 UK shops, including branches in Sunderland and Newcastle, said profits reached £66m for the six months to June 30, with about two thirds of bets now placed online through mobile phones.

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The amount staked by customers in its UK shops rose 16 per cent to £259.7m, with profits growing by three per cent to £6.7m, and online profits increasing by 19 per cent to £49.5m.

Its advertisement, aired earlier this year, saw a plastic model of Sunderland's di Canio next to a puppet of Kim Jong-Un, who said he wanted to bring nuclear power to the club's Stadium of Light ground and see its players celebrate like former Newcastle United striker Alan Shearer.