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William Hill say betting shops still have a future despite blow from Covid-19

William Hill's pre-tax profits were down 91 per cent
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Rumours of the death of the betting shop have been exaggerated according to William Hill chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson, despite the effects of Covid-19 on the high street helping cause a sharp fall in profits at the operator.

Bengtsson was speaking as William Hill unveiled their results for 2020 on Thursday, their last before their acquisition by US casino giant Caesars Entertainment.

Hills reported a sharp fall in pre-tax profits last year as the operator was hit by the closure of betting shops and the disruption to sports events caused by the pandemic.

Profit before tax was down 91 per cent at £9.1 million, with net revenue down 16 per cent at £1.3 billion. However, online delivered nine per cent net revenue growth, while Hills' operation in the United States grew net revenue by 32 per cent.

William Hill said net revenue across their 1,414 betting shops was down 30 per cent on a like-for-like basis, with UK retail recording a loss of £29.5 million.

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The bookmaker closed more than 700 shops in 2019 and a further 119 stayed shut after the first lockdown last year, but Bengtsson said the division was "in good shape" as a result. 

He said: "I think the rumour of the death of the high street bookie is over-exaggerated. It has a very important role to play for William Hill. Our customers enjoy the retail experience, they like to come down to the shop to hang out with friends or watch the racing and it is an experience that on the whole online cannot provide.

"We are not naive in any way, we do recognise that there are changes to the ecosystem, but again we are ahead of the curve on that. We have already made big changes to our estate so we feel we are very well equipped to take on what's coming after Covid-19."

William Hill chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson

Betting shops are closed following the latest lockdown and are due to reopen no earlier than April 12, and Bengtsson added: "When we were allowed to trade they traded very well and traded profitably, so I am confident it will bounce back quickly on April 12."

Bengtsson said he was proud of the "resilience and commitment" his teams had shown during a difficult year and that there was "a lot to like" about the results, further adding: "We have had very strong performance in all of our online businesses."

William Hill's acquisition by Caesars Entertainment is expected to be completed early in the next quarter, or possibly as early as this month. The firm is also expected to sell off the non-US parts of the William Hill business once the deal is completed.

Bengtsson said: "Clearly there are going to be significant changes in the next year but we think we have made enormous progress as a company both in our European and UK business and in our US business.

"The company is in good shape and we are well positioned for the future so we will see what the future holds."

William Hill shares were unchanged at 271p at the close of the markets on Thursday.

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The company is in good shape and we are well positioned for the future, so we will see what the future holds
E.W. Terms