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William Hill 'in a good place' despite fall in profits, Bowcock says

William Hill: Operating profits fell three per cent in 2018
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William Hill's profits fell in 2018 but chief executive Philip Bowcock said the bookmaker was now in a good place and aiming to double profits by 2023.

The bare figures announced for last year looked grim, with William Hill posting a statutory loss of £722 million, but that was down to a major write down of their betting shop business of nearly £883m prompted by the government's decision to reduce FOBT stakes to £2 and had been flagged up last year.

Adjusted operating profit was down by three per cent to £266.8m, in line with expectations, the bookmaker said, while revenue rose two per cent to £1.62 billion.

The government's verdict on FOBTs as well as last year's Supreme Court decision in the US to loosen the shackles on sports betting there had made the way ahead clearer, Bowcock said.

"The business is in a good place, it's in a place where we have got a lot more clarity. That really gives us opportunity," he said.

Bowcock said that William Hill now have a 34 per cent share of the whole US sports betting market.

"Outside of Nevada we are the only company in all the other six states to have regulated," he added. "We have got the pieces of the jigsaw well placed."

Hills said their retail division was proving "resilient" despite the difficult conditions on the UK high street.

Looking ahead to the introduction of £2 maximum stakes on FOBTs from April 1 Bowcock said they were "ready for the challenge".

Hills have said 900 of their shops are at risk of closure but Bowcock said things would be clearer when they announced their half-year results in August, adding: "There is a future on the UK high street for betting operators, we just have to make the best of the situation we are in."

The voluntary whistle-to-whistle advertising ban being introduced by betting firms this year showed operators could work on their own to introduce measures to protect customers without encouragement from regulators or government, Bowcock said.

He added: "We are also working with others such as the Gambling Commission and politicians to think of how we can utilise technology to protect customers who are at risk."

Bowcock said the equine flu outbreak this year had been just a "blip" for William Hill's business but added: "Anything that adversely affects horseracing is obviously not good for our business."

Hills' share price closed down 4.1p at 183.45p.

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There is a future on the UK high street for betting operators, we just have to make the best of the situation we are in
E.W. Terms