William Hill to close 119 betting shops

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William Hill

William Hill says 119 of its High Street betting shops will not re-open after the shutdown forced by the coronavirus outbreak.

The company, which has 1,500 UK outlets, said it did not expect customers to return in the numbers seen before the Covid-19 pandemic.

It said around 300 staff were affected, and all but 20 had been redeployed.

Trading has recovered well post-lockdown, William Hill said, and it is repaying £24.5m of UK furlough funds.

Its comments came as it reported pre-tax profits of £141m for the first six months of 2020, compared with a loss of £63m last year.

Its revenues, however, fell by a third to £554m, reflecting the impact of the lockdown, and the fact that with so many sporting events cancelled, there were fewer events to take a punt on.

William Hill employs 12,000 people in 10 countries, with 7,000 in the UK.

The company said trading had been strong before the pandemic. When the lockdown came in, it said it had controlled costs “effectively” and was now recovering well.

Its presence on the High Street and town centres was already receding. Last year, it said it was cutting 700 shops after new regulations dramatically cut the size of a stake in fixed-odds betting terminals – gaming machines situated in shops – from £100 to £2.

It plans to expand further in the US, where new opportunities are arising as the country’s previously strict gambling rules are relaxed in some states.

William Hill said its international online business grew by 17%, and added that it now had almost a third of all US sports betting.

Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: “I am delighted with William Hill’s performance in these extraordinary times. Our team has been remarkable, supporting each other and our customers throughout the pandemic, and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.

“The furlough scheme provided welcome and timely support, and meant we could protect the jobs of our 7,000 UK retail colleagues. Therefore, given the strength of our recovery post-lockdown, we have decided to repay the furlough funds.”

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