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Australian impairment drags William Hill results down under

William Hill’s decision to take a £238m impairment charge on the value of its Australian business saw the bookmaker report a pre-tax loss of £75m for 2017, but the firm is confident that the performance of the business as a whole is positive.

While Group net revenue grew 7% to £1,711.1m, a total of £335.0m of exceptional costs and adjustments ruined the firm’s balance sheet. Apart from the goodwill impairment of the Australian business following adverse tax and regulatory changes, other charges were from the costs of the Group-wide transformation programme and from retrospective VAT payments in Germany and three other markets.

The firm added: “However, adjusted operating profit, which gives a clearer picture of underlying performance, was up 11% to £291.3m, supported in particular by strong growth in our Online and US businesses.”

William Hill hailed its omnichannel capabilities and its position in the US ahead of potential deregulation, but following its £6.2m Gambling Commission fine earlier in the week it is now making a major play for developing a ‘sustainable’ business.

It explained: “We are focused on improving our approach to responsible gambling to build a long-term, sustainable business for all our stakeholders, and especially for any of our customers who are at risk from problem gambling.

We recognise that it is not enough to grow: we have to grow the right way. That means acting in a sustainable way that takes account of all our stakeholders. We remain a company with commercial objectives but commercial gain should not come at the expense of being a responsible company. We are committed to treating customers fairly and openly, to protecting the vulnerable and to keeping crime out of gambling.”

After the regulatory settlement with the Gambling Commission, William Hill also announced it is introducing ‘new and improved policies and increased levels of resourcing’ to improve its ability to ensure full regulatory compliance, committing to an independent process review.

It added: “We are fully committed to operating a sustainable business that properly identifies risk and better protects customers and we will continue to assist the Commission and work with other operators to improve practices in this area.

“We can and will do more to embed sustainability for the long term. In the months ahead we will be taking a number of important steps in key areas, including improving the transparency of our marketing and communications, increasing responsible gambling measures and enhancing our stakeholder engagement. We will update on these measures in due course.”

sbcnews.co.uk/europe/uk/...gs-william-hill-results/
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Executive shake-up sees William Hill appoint Ulrik Bengtsson as Group Digital Chief

Further to publishing its full-year 2017 results, FTSE-listed William Hill Plc has today confirmed the appointment of former Betsson AB Group President & CEO Ulrik Bengtsson to the newly created role of Group Chief Digital Officer.

Bengtsson is expected to join the group’s leadership team this April and will report directly to William Hill CEO Philip Bowcock as a member of the firm’s Executive Committee.

Last September, Bengtsson ended his six-year tenure as leader of Stockholm-listed European online gambling group Betsson AB.

A seasoned industry leader, Bengtsson will gain full group oversight on global data, brand, marketing and customer service for William Hill’s digital operations.

The executive appointment sees Crispin Nieboer current William Hill Online MD, take on the newly created role of Group Corporate Development Director, which will primarily focus on William Hill’s international growth initiatives.

Appointing Nieboer as group international lead, William Hill governance further details that US market opportunities will be made an immediate priority for the FTSE bookmaker’s long-term growth strategy.

The executive restructure will see Ulrik Bengtsson further supported by Grant Williams current Chief Operating Officer for digital operations, who will assume the position of MD of William Hill Online.

sbcnews.co.uk/europe/uk/...son-group-digital-chief/
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New look William Hill leadership confident of delivering successful ‘next chapter’

William Hill’s new leadership team is confident of delivering the FTSE bookmaker’s ‘next chapter’ having closed a group-wide transformative 2017.

The bookmaker’s £238 million impairment charge on the value of its Australian business, dominated industry headlines last week, as William Hill Chief Executive Philip Bowcock presented full-year 2017 results.

Despite the Australian downturn, Bowcock details to investors that William Hill has undertaken critical decisions through its transformation programme, which will ‘strengthen the organisation for the long-term’.

Closing 2017 accounts, Bowcock states that William Hill has been successful at delivering its three strategic priorities in; ‘rejuvenating its digital enterprise, bolstering its omni-channel proposition and gaining significant growth within the US’.

Further positives see the transformation programme deliver on its year1 target of generating £25 million in group cost savings, which William Hill governance believes can be further expanded to ‘£40 million annualised run rate’.

Bowcock and William Hill’s executive team will seek to invest the group savings in initiatives that will deliver ‘the fastest profitable growth’.

William Hill’s 2017 results, saw Ruth Prior deliver her first corporate update as Group Chief Financial Officer (CFO). Prior who joined William Hill last October, from ‘FTSE100 darling Worldpay Plc’, has been quick to lay down her approach as group financial lead.

William Hill is clearly going through its period of transition. But you cannot cost-cut your way out of this situation. From my experience, I believe that you have to face historic issues, reshape your cost-base, transform your talent pool and invest in marketing and technology”.

2017 has not only been a year of structural change for William Hill. The bookmaker has brought a number of fresh faces to its governance and senior executive teams ‘expanding the skillset of its leadership’.

This February, UK leisure and hospitality guru Roger Devlin joined William Hill governance as new Group Chairman, taking over from Gareth Davis.

Furthermore, Bowcock and Prior’s corporate strategy will soon be supported by former Betsson AB CEO Ulrik Bengtsson who will take on the newly created role of Group Chief Digital Officer.

Bowcock and Prior are confident that William Hill can ‘deliver growth in the pieces that it controls…Facing a number of 2018 headwinds, sector analysts and investors will monitor closely whether industry outsiders Bowcock and Prior can revive the sector’s sleeping giant.

sbcnews.co.uk/retail/201...successful-next-chapter/
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Crownbet & Paddy Power Betfair in duel for William Hill Australia

The Australian Financial Review has revealed that CrownBet and Paddy Power Betfair subsidiary Sportsbet.com.au are the two suitors bidding for William Hill Australia.

Both operators are reported to have confirmed their interest this week in pursuing William Hill’s troubled Australian business division and will be allowed to perform due diligence on the asset to prepare their formal bids.

The update, sees Australia’s two biggest online bookmakers compete for William Hill’s division which has been active in the Australian market since 2012, formed through the acquisitions of Sportingbet Australia, Centrebet and TomWaterhouse.com.

Confirming a strategic review of its Australian business in January, William Hill is reported to have invested AUS $700 million (€440 million) to date on its Australian enterprise.

Deal insiders believe that William Hill governance will target an AUS $200 million (€126 million) sale for its asset.

FTSE100 Paddy Power Betfair seeks to continue the strong momentum of its Sportsbet Australia asset, which in 2017 became the outright market leader in online wagering with an estimated 15% of market share.

Led by industry veteran Matt Tripp, this February CrownBet secured Toronto TSX The Stars Group Inc as its new majority shareholder completing a €95 million investment in the operator.

Both Paddy Power Betfair and The Stars Group governances seek to expand further in a rapidly changing Australian online betting market, which has seen restrictions in credit-line betting and bookmaker advertising.

Furthermore, Australian state legislators are assessing whether to impose further taxes on online betting transactions, creating harsher terrain for market incumbents.

Facing severe operational restrictions, industry analysts believe that the Australian online wagering market may contract to become a small field of players from its current state, as European operators revise their market options.
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William Hill sells Australia business to CrownBet

The governance of William Hill Plc has today disclosed that it has signed a binding agreement to sell its William Hill Australia division to CrownBet for AUS $300 million (€185 million).

The FTSE bookmaker had placed its William Hill Australia division under strategic review in January, as a result of the Australian government’s ban on credit betting and the likely introduction of a Point of Consumption tax in a number of states impacting the division’s profitability.

Last week, business news sources reported that CrownBet, the newly acquired subsidiary of Toronto TSX-listed The Stars Group Inc, would compete in an auction against FTSE100 operator Paddy Power Betfair for William Hill’s Australian business.

Active in the market since 2012, William Hill is reported to have invested AUS $700 million (£450 million) on its Australian expansion, acquiring the online assets of Sportingbet.com.au. Centrebet and TomWaterhouse.com

Led by industry veteran Matt Tripp, Crownbet seeks to become Australia’s number 1 online gambling destination, in market that could soon compact in the number of competitors.

Confirming the transaction Philip Bowcock, William Hill’s Chief Executive Officer, commented:

“We are pleased to announce the sale of William Hill Australia to CrownBet. The disposal follows a strategic review of the Business, launched in January after its profitability came under increased pressure due to the recent credit betting ban and the likely introduction of a Point of Consumption tax.

The disposal will allow William Hill to focus on continuing to grow our UK Online and US businesses, particularly as we prepare for the decision on the PASPA appeal due in 2018.”

The disposal is expected to complete following regulatory approvals from the Foreign Investment Review Board and the Northern Territory Racing Commission, which William Hill expect will be obtained in a timely manner. An announcement confirming completion will be issued in due course.
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William Hill poised to up the stakes in US expansion

An underlying narrative from William Hill’s departure of the Australian market this week, was that the operator is readying itself to expand its US footprint should the US Court overturn the PASPA act this year.

Since 2012 William Hill has had betting outlets in Nevada, however since the possibility of legal sports betting grew in New Jersey, the group has explored the possibility of expansion to Monmouth Park.

Furthermore having first entered the Australian market in 2013 William Hill has announced that is has agreed to dispose of William Hill Australia to Crownbet. A deal that the group’s Chief Executive Officer, Philip Bowcock emphasised would allow them “to focus on continuing to grow our UK Online and US businesses, particularly as we prepare for the decision on the PASPA appeal due in 2018.”

Don Best Sports supplies odds and data services for North American sports, the group’s Managing Director Benjie Cherniak spoke to SBC about William Hill’s decision and whether it emphasises how much focus the operator is putting on the American market.

Cherniak stated: “I think this decision is in some part based on William Hill’s desire to focus on the US market, albeit in reality they have been preparing for US expansion for a number of years now, led by William Hill CEO Joe Asher and his capable team. In fact, one can surmise that William Hill’s entry into the US six years ago, while in part based on the Nevada opportunity, was in larger part to position themselves for the eventuality of legislation and US expansion, which at the time seemed light years away but now appears to be right around the corner.

“The other factor in play here is that William Hill clearly struggled in Australia from day one. There are a preponderance of reasons for their inability to turn the corner in Oz but that is a story for another day. Would William Hill be turning their backs on Australia if they were achieving great success in said market? Highly doubtful. But given their struggles in Oz, and given the opportunity the US represents, the timing is opportune to exit at this juncture, as they now have.”

Further looking ahead to the just how competitive the market could be should it open up, he added: “We are really early in the game but it is clear that the US market will be both massively competitive and highly challenging. Competition will come in various forms, as each State will have its own legislation and its own operators, making it difficult to establish a national strategy.

“Not only does an operator need to consider its competitors from state to state, but they also have to adjust to varying tax rates, laws, and potentially sharing revenues with professional sports leagues in select jurisdictions. Not to mention the at least initially the grey market remains active, adding a less defined layer of competition to the mix. It will be interesting to see which operators are flexible enough to adapt to these challenges and realities.

William Hill, as mentioned above, have been preparing for legislation for years, and appear to be well positioned to navigate the landscape. Interestingly, Crown buying out William Hill Australia and in turn selling 80% of shares to Stars Group may play into the US story as well. Stars already has US operations, and with Crown on board, Stars is now seemingly better positioned to formulate a US strategy then they were previously.

“It may turn out that the entity William Hill sold to in Australia eventually emerges directly or indirectly as a competitor to William Hill in the US market. It will be fascinating to see how all the above plays out in the years ahead,” concluded Cherniak.
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William Hill and Labrokes rally on regulator's better-than-feared proposal on FOBT stake

“This should be a relief for the sector as the worst-case scenario looks to have been avoided,” said ETX Capital's Neil Wilson.

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Shares in bookmakers received a boost on Monday after UK's Gambling Commission recommended new restrictions on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) that were less stringent than feared.

The Commission said the maximum stake FOBTs – non-slot machines that offer computerised casino-type games with the press of a button – should be cut from £100 to £30.

It also recommended that the stake on slot machines, like traditional fruit machine games, should be limited to £2.

Bookies relieved

Gambling stocks, including Ladbrokes Coral Group PLC (LON:LCL) and William Hill plc (LON:WMH) jumped on the news since the industry was expecting the maximum stake on FOBTs to be lowered to £2.

“This should be a relief for the sector as the worst-case scenario looks to have been avoided,” said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital.

“Although the commission says there is a ‘precautionary case’ for a £2 stake limit for B2 slots games, it’s suggesting a maximum of ‘at or below £30’ for non-slots.

“With the non-slots versions of the B2 machines (roulette etc) far more popular and producing the bulk of revenues for bookies from these machines, this is undoubtedly a positive outcome for bookmakers overall.”

FOBTs generated more than £1.8bn in tax revenue last year and are an important source of income for bookmakers.

Government tackles problem gambling

The decision to cut the stakes on FOBTs and slot machines is part of an industry-wide clampdown to address problem gambling.

The Commission said the £30 limit for FOBTs had been recommended to prevent players from losing large amounts of money in a short space of time.

"We've put consumers at the heart of our advice - advice which is based on the best available evidence and is focused on reducing the risk of gambling-related harm,” said Gambling Commission chief executive Neil McArthur.

"In our judgment, a stake cut for Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone doesn't go far enough to protect vulnerable people.

"That is why we have recommended a stake cut plus a comprehensive package of other measures to protect consumers.”

The Commission has also proposed a ban on machines being able to allow different - high and low stake - categories of games to be played in a single session.

The government, which started a review into FOBTs in October 2016, will need to decide whether to accept the Commission’s recommendation or impose a lower figure.
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William Hill unveils new guarantee on ITV races

Commencing this week, William Hill will start trialling a new bet guarantee offer on TV races for retail and online customers.

William Hill has outlined that its shops will lay customers to lose a minimum of £5,000 for win bets on all races that are shown on ITV Racing and in online customers will be able to bet to win a minimum of £1,000 at the available price.

Both offers will be available on the day of the race from 10am onwards. For early bird customers prices will be available on all ITV races at the five day declaration stage so customers can choose to bet at the early prices or have a guaranteed minimum bet on raceday.

The group detailed that they have dropped their previous guarantee on Pricewise selections, emphasising that this new offer provided customers with a fairer option.

Group Trading Director Terry Pattinson commented: “William Hill recognise that some customers are frustrated by not being able to get a sizeable bet on televised races, while we also want to ensure that early prices are there for our recreational customers and are not picked off by the few. We hope this offer appeals to both groups and the bet guarantee will apply to customers who may have been restricted in the past.”

The decision follows on from Ladbrokes bringing its policy in line with Coral’s and extending its ‘lay to-lose’ horse racing bets guarantee across all the operator’s retail outlets. The group had already put in place a policy to lay bets to lose no less than £5,000 per capita on all races ITV races. However, moving forward Ladbrokes announced it would add Class 4 and above handicaps to races that it will lay to lose no less than £2,000.
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William Hill rides high on 'unprecedented run' of favourable results

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Bookmaker William Hill has chalked up rising sales after the group was boosted by an “unprecedented run” of favourable results.

The betting firm saw group net revenues rise 3pc for the 17 weeks to April 24, underpinned by “very strong” horse racing and football results at the beginning of this year.

Online sales climbed 12pc over the period, helping to offset a 4pc drop in high street takings as the firm grappled with 15pc of UK and Irish horse racing fixtures being abandoned.

Shares in the group rose 1pc to £2.82 in early afternoon trading on the London Stock Exchange.

Chief executive Philip Bowcock said the move to sell its Australian business for £173m to Melbourne-based CrownBet had helped strengthen its balance sheet.

He added: "William Hill has had a positive start to 2018.

“In the UK, an unprecedented run of bookmaker-friendly sporting results led to unusual wagering and gaming trends, which we expect to normalise over time.”

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While margins were higher, William Hill noted that punters were less likely to "recycle" their winnings into fresh bets.

The group’s US arm enjoyed a stellar run, lifting 45pc following a triple boost from strong bets on basketball, the introduction of in-play betting on tennis and a jump in wagering on ice hockey.

Bookies including William Hill are hoping for a change of the laws surrounding sports betting in the US this year, given the Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the future of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (Paspa).


The case, brought by New Jersey governor Chris Christie against the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), centres on an appeal by Mr Christie against a 2016 court decision in his state to maintain a federal ban on sports betting via Paspa.

The US passed the law because of concerns that sports betting was a national problem that caused harm to its citizens and those in other countries.
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March madness puts a spring in William Hill’s step in US

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William Hill continues to perform well in the US market, benefiting from an upsurge in sports betting revenues. In its latest trading statement, which showed overall growth of three per cent in group net revenue for the 17 weeks to April 24 2018, the bookie said it delivered a robust US performance in the period, with strong underlying growth compounded by unusually good sports results.

Amounts wagered were ahead by 17 per cent while net revenue was up 45 per cent with gross win margin 1.5 percentage points higher at 7.7 per cent. Amounts wagered was driven particularly by strong basketball wagering coming from the March Madness competition, increased wagering on ice hockey resulting from the successful inaugural season of the Vegas Golden Knights and from the introduction of in-play tennis. Mobile amounts wagered rose 39 per cent and increased to 64 per cent of the total wagering in the period. Hill said it is continuing to invest ahead of the Supreme Court’s decision to prepare for potential early regulation by certain states.

Philip Bowcock, CEO, commented: “William Hill has had a positive start to 2018, making further progress against our strategic priorities to grow UK market share, drive international revenues and deliver key transformation projects.Continued momentum in Online and strong growth in the US have driven a good performance during the period. In the UK, an unprecedented run of bookmaker-friendly sporting results led to unusual wagering and gaming trends, which we expect to normalise over time. The sale of our Australia business has further strengthened our balance sheet.

“While we await the outcome of the UK Triennial Review and the Supreme Court’s decision on US sports betting legislation, we remain focused on continuing to deliver a great customer experience, particularly ahead of this summer’s World Cup.”
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Tottenham Hotspur and William Hill extend deep rooted deal

Tottenham Hotspur has announced a multi-year extension to its partnership with William Hill, after the betting and gaming firm become the club’s official betting partner for Europe at the start of the 2016/17 season.

The fresh deal is to see William Hill continue to have a presence across the clubs growing digital channels, and LED perimeter advertising boards at the club’s new home.

In addition fans will also be able to place bets on the William Hill App and mobile betting site via the stadium’s WiFi.

Fran Jones, Head of Partnerships at Tottenham Hotspur, said: “This new agreement reinforces William Hill’s commitment to the Club and the borough of Haringey and we look forward to continuing our partnership as we approach our move back to Tottenham and our new stadium.”

William Hill, whose head office is London based, has also invested in various community projects that have been delivered by the Club’s charitable body, the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, since the start of the partnership in 2016.

Once aspect of this, that has taken place over the course of the last two years, has seen the firm invest a six-figure sum to fund the Tottenham Hotspur Elevator Programme, which has since helped young people in Haringey find employment.

Work of this nature is to continue as part of the new agreement, in part through William Hill’s Close to HOME campaign, which seeks to make a positive contribution to the local community.

Ulrik Bengtsson, Chief Digital Officer at William Hill, said: “We are delighted to extend our partnership with Tottenham Hotspur. We have built strong ties with the club, staff and the fans over the past two seasons and we are excited to grow our relationship as the Club enters a significant chapter in their history with the move into their new stadium.”
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William Hill predicts ‘unprecedented’ change will see 38% of shop estate unprofitable

William Hill has updated the market on the back of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 games from £100 to £2. Given the Government has specified its intended outcome, William Hill said it is providing preliminary guidance on the potential impact in order to help investors and analysts with their own modelling.

It said: “However, a regulatory change of this nature is unprecedented and its impact on customer behaviour will not be fully known until some years after implementation. The initial guidance provided, therefore, is necessarily based upon a series of assumptions based on William Hill’s knowledge at the time of writing. We will update the market as appropriate during and after implementation.”

William Hill has disclosed:

· In the first four months of the current financial year, c70% of our total gaming machine net revenue was generated by stakes in excess of the proposed £2 threshold.

· After making a number of assumptions on revenue substitution back into gaming machines and other products, and capture of revenue from other shops closing across the industry, we estimate that the annualised impact of a £2 staking limit could be a reduction in total gaming net revenue of 35-45%.

· At this point, preliminary estimates suggest that the stake limit could result in c900 William Hill shops (c38% of our existing Retail estate) becoming loss-making. A proportion of these would be at risk of being closed within a relatively short time of the proposed staking change being implemented and, for the remainder of the estate, we will monitor the actual impact on the estate and performance over the medium and long term.

· We currently estimate that this could reduce William Hill Retail’s annualised adjusted operating profit following mitigation measures by c£70-100m. We have assumed a degree of mitigation but will continue to look at further ways to reduce the longer term impact on profitability.

Notwithstanding this change, William Hill said the Board’s current intention is to retain the existing dividend policy to pay out approximately 50% of underlying earnings. The Group’s balance sheet remains strong with net debt to EBITDA currently c0.5 times following the receipt of proceeds from the Australia and NYX transactions.

Philip Bowcock, Chief Executive Officer, said: “William Hill has a long and proud heritage as part of the UK high street and we know how important betting shops are to our customers and their local economies. The Government has handed us a tough challenge today and it will take some time for the full impact to be understood, for our business, the wider high street and key partners like horseracing.

“We will continue to evolve our Retail business in order to adapt to this change and we will support our colleagues as best we can. Despite the challenges presented by this decision, our teams will compete hard and offer great service to William Hill customers.”
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William Hill US ready for business as soon as responsibly possible

William Hill US has publicly welcomed last week’s overturning of PASPA by the Supreme Court of the US, hinting that the landmark legal ruling will be a positive development for sports bettors across the whole of America.

The view was expressed by CEO Joe Asher this week in a syndicated statement to press where he commented: “We are excited, not just for ourselves, but for sports fans across the country. We’ve been working towards this day for a long time and take great satisfaction in the Supreme Court’s decision.”

According to Asher, a legalised sports betting sector in the US will benefit everyone involved in the industry, from the bettors through to the government. “Just as we have with our 100+ locations in Nevada, we look forward to working to make legal and regulated sports betting a big winner for consumers, state governments and all interested parties across the country,” he said.

He also issued a warning shot to the offshore betting operators who have, thus far, successfully traded on the wrong side of the law. “If we do this the right way, the only losers will be the illegal bookies that have been operating a massive black market,” he warned. “We’re going to get ready to open for business at Monmouth Park as soon as responsibly possible.”

William Hill was the first British bookmaker to be licensed in Nevada and entered the US market in 2012. William Hill US currently operates 100-plus sports betting locations as well as the Mobile Sports app in Nevada. In addition, the company serves as the exclusive risk manager for the State of Delaware’s Sports Lottery.
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