William Hill set to close 109 shops thanks to government tax hike

 
Guy Bentley
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Bookmakers William Hill will be closing 109 betting shops this year as a direct result of the government's decision to hike Machine Games Duty to 25 per cent.

Up to 420 William Hill employees are now at risk of redundancy, with roughly £23-24m of exceptional costs to be incurred thanks to the closures.

"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 betting group said.

The company revised up how big a hit it’ll take from the increase in tax on its fixed-odds betting terminals only days after the March budget - to £22m.

In its results for the first quarter William Hill announced it had seen profits fall by 14 per cent from the same period last year, with football results having a particularly negative impact on results.

However, the company said it was important to see past the short-term wins of the football punters and examine the underlying strength of the business.

The thirteen weeks ended 1 April saw the bookmaker enjoy strong growth in online gaming net revenue of 16 per cent. Online gaming benefited substantially from the 142 per cent growth in mobile. Online Sportsbook also continued to grow with turnover up 39 per cent.

Ralph Topping, chief executive, commented:

We are very well placed to take advantage of the World Cup opportunity, coming in the second quarter, with an unrivalled football product range, the most downloaded Sportsbook app in the UK and a leading mobile gaming offer for cross-sell.

The US performed strongly with betting up 23 percent and operating profit booming by 188 per cent.

On the company's UK side, it has implemented the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) voluntary code for responsible gambling, adding it was pleased with the progress to date.

Despite the shop closures and increasing tax burden, stockbroker Numis are relatively upbeat about the prospects for Britain's largest bookmaker.

Numis believe the concern over regulatory risk is at a peak and government policy changes will not be as bad as originally feared. William Hill also retains the advantage of being a market-leader, which means it can absorb some of the regulatory and tax costs that smaller competitors cannot.

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