Coronavirus: William Hill to close 119 betting shops despite posting profit

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read
William Hill US opens a sports book betting location inside Monumental Sports & Entertainment's Capital One Arena Box Office in Washington, Monday, Aug. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
William Hill announced the closure of 199 UK betting shops. Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

William Hill (WMH.L) has announced 119 betting shops have closed for good and up to 20 staff face redundancy in the UK, despite the company managing to stay in profit this year.

The bookmaker blamed the pandemic and “increased uncertainty of future high street retail cashflows” for the closures, which were revealed in its interim results published on Wednesday.

“We anticipate that longer-term retail footfall will not return to pre-COVID levels,” said the company.

But the company swung into profit in the first half of the year, making £141.1m ($185.1m) after losing £63.5m in the same period a year earlier.

READ MORE: 1,100 Pizza Express jobs at risk as 67 restaurants could close

Net revenues were down but only by 32% to £554.4m, when many other major firms across sectors have posted steeper declines because of the pandemic.

Like-for-like revenue was down 49%, with shops closed during lockdown. But it was flat in the final two weeks of June as customers returned to shops as lockdown eased.

The results lifted William Hill’s share price on Wednesday, with stocks 6.1% higher in early trading.

William Hill also said it will pay back the £24.5m it received from the government’s furlough scheme to protect staff jobs, and won’t claim the job retention bonus.

READ MORE: Thousands of jobs at risk as William Hill profits halved and store closures loom

The latest statement did not specify which shops had closed, and the company declined to provide further details. A spokesperson said around 300 staff had been redeployed elsewhere, with “less than 20” redundancies.

The closures come on top of 713 closures last year, when the company blamed a UK government clampdown on controversial fixed-odds betting machines for its troubles.

Online net revenue, which now makes up around two-thirds of its revenue, held up much more strongly in the UK and overseas. It edged 1% higher in the first half to £369.3m, and adjusted profits for online were up 3% to £55.7m.

William Hill said it had seen a “strong recovery” in both online and retail trading as live sports have resumed.

"I am delighted with William Hill's performance in these extraordinary times,” said CEO Ulrik Bengtsson.

A spokesperson added: “We are very comfortable with the scale and performance of our retail estate; we think we have got the balance right. But we will always look at performance as leases are up for renewal. This is just part of normal business practice.”