William Hill swung to a pre-tax loss of £722 million for 2018 as a result of the UK government’s decision to cut the maximum stake on FOBTs from £100 to £2. That prompted a major write down of its land-based UK business totalling £833 million, and it is now pinning its hopes on expansion into the US and ramping up its online business. Adjusted operating profit was down by three per cent to £266.8m, in line with expectations, while revenue rose two per cent to £1.62 billion. Yet chief executive Philip Bowcock was bullish and 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 added that William Hill now has a 34% share of the US sports betting market, the retail division is “resilient” and online would grow more important. In a note, Barclays analysts said there was “some relief” the earnings were in line with expectations after a “challenging year”.
Ireland’s gambling regulator will be able to dish out seven-figure fines to betting sites that breach new government laws, according to junior justice minister David Stanton. The UK Gambling Commission handed out around £18 million fines in the year to March 2018, and Ireland is now about to be given a regulator with similarly sharp teeth. “The regulator will have to be able to impose penalties that are strong enough to have an impact,” Stanton told The Sunday Times. “In Britain, where various parts of the industry stepped over the line, they were fined millions. The Irish gambling regulator must be in a position to impose sanctions with a real impact, otherwise these people just take the hit and carry on. I am passionate and impatient about putting a tough independent gambling regulator in place without undue delay, but it is a major piece of legislative work. I hope government will give me permission and resources this month to draft the heads of a bill based on our report.”
Betfred has been named as the new headline sponsor of the British Masters, one of the four biggest global tournaments tournaments of the year. This year it takes place at Hillside Golf Club in Southport on May 9-12, hosted by local lad and star player Tommy Fleetwood. Fred Done, the owner of Betfred, said: “I’ve been looking at golf sponsorship for some time so when the British Masters, with Tommy Fleetwood hosting in the North West, was put to me it seemed the perfect opportunity to get involved. I am absolutely delighted to see the Betfred brand alongside such a high profile event in the sport of golf.” Fleetwood added: “It’s great to have Betfred on board, making it the Betfred British Masters. For me, as host, one of my key messages was to push the North West, and they are a North West based company, so it fits perfectly. On top of that, they have been involved in some great sporting events. So it’s come together nicely and we are very happy to have Betfred on board as title sponsor.”
Betfair has successfully defended itself against a complaint that its TV ad was socially irresponsible. It featured a young man checking his mobile phone while walking down the street before going into a secret door to a betting den. A voice-over then stated: “My gut says that horse is something special and my smarts say to back it on the Betfair Exchange where I get bigger returns than if I bet with one of these other bookies. That’s why I go to Betfair. Betfair, where gut instinct meets smarts.” The complainant argued that references to “smarts” focused on the feelings of excitement experienced by an aspirational figure and made the ad irresponsible through exploiting the susceptibilities of young men. Betfair rigorously defended itself, arguing that the man was in plain clothes and not an aspirational character, and the Advertising Standards Authority ruled in its favour, concluding that the ad was fine and did not breach any rules.