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William Hill hit by damaging football results

WILLIAM HILL will close 109 betting shops this year, putting approximately 420 shop employees at risk of redundancy, in the move the bookmaker has said has been brought about by the government’s decision to raise duty on gaming machines.

The controversial move by chancellor George Osborne in last month’s Budget to increased the duty on the controversial category B2 machines from 20 to 25 per cent has left William Hill with no option but to streamline their retail portfolio, according to chief executive Ralph Topping.

Speaking in the company's quarterly finanical update, he said: “As a direct result of the government's unexpected announcement about an increase in machine games duty to 25 per cent, we have reviewed shop profitability and will be closing a portfolio of 109 shops this year, putting c420 shop employees at risk of redundancy. 

“This is particularly disappointing as, through the economic downturn, we have worked hard to grow our Retail base but this further planned increase in indirect taxation makes this action necessary.”

The firm reported group total pre-tax profits are down 14 per cent for the first quarter of 2014 after they join a number of bookmakers to be hit by damaging football results.

Retail and online profits dropped 25 per cent and six per cent from the same period in 2013, but the firm pointed out strong underlying growth, particularly online where Sportsbook turnover was up 39 per cent and mobile 78 per cent.

Topping added: “Whilst the outstanding gross win margin in Q1 2013 sets a very high bar, meaning we are facing tough comparative figures, two substantial loss making weeks in this quarter (weeks 2 and 12) - with major wins for the football punters - impacted profit progression despite good growth in wagering in both Online and Retail and significantly improved gaming performance in both channels.

“As ever, it is important to look through short-term sporting results to the underlying strength of the business.  Mobile, for instance, continues to go from strength to strength, increasing to 45% of Online Sportsbook amounts wagered and 27% of Online gaming net revenue in the period.”

More to follow . . .

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