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Covid-19 hits betting shops but William Hill end 'a year like no other' strongly

William Hill: have reported a strong end to 2020
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William Hill's betting shop estate recorded a loss of around £30 million in 2020 as Covid-19 restrictions hit the bookmaker.

The impact of the pandemic on live sport, lockdowns and the effect of having a smaller betting shop estate meant total group net revenue for the year fell 16 per cent to £1.3 billion, Hills said in a trading statement released on Wednesday.

However, the company reported a strong end to "a year like no other", with total net revenue for the fourth quarter of 2020 up nine per cent year on year, sportsbook staking up 16 per cent and favourable sports results driving group sportsbook net revenue up 20 per cent.

Hills said that at the end of the third quarter their 1,414-strong retail estate had been on course to break even, but further Covid-related restrictions towards the end of 2020 resulted in a full-year loss for the division. 

The bookmaker received £24.5m of furlough funds in the first half of 2020, which have since been repaid, and Hills added that under the current circumstances they did not expect to claim any further job retention related support. UK retail staff received 100 per cent of their full pay throughout the year, even when furloughed.

Online UK net revenue grew five per cent in 2020 and by 12 per cent in other markets. In the US, William Hill's full-year net revenue increased 32 per cent, driven by strong growth online.

Ulrik Bengtsson: William Hill chief executive

Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: "2020 was a year like no other. It tested our agility and flexibility and we delivered, keeping our customers and team safe, while materially improving our competitive position through product enhancements and geographical expansion."

In November, William Hill shareholders voted in favour of a £2.9bn takeover by the company's US partner Caesars Entertainment, a deal expected to be completed early in the second quarter of this year but possibly as early as March.

Bengtsson added: "The offer received for the group recognises the substantial progress we have made as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead of us."

Caesars is set to look for new owners for the non-US parts of William Hill's business and analyst Gavin Kelleher of stockbrokers Goodbody said attention was set to turn to that process next.

He added: "At the right valuation we can see merits in any number of operators acquiring these assets to boost their online scale."

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I remain immensely proud of the William Hill team which has been relentless in its focus on delivering a great product and service to our customers
E.W. Terms