William Hill will repay the £24.5 million it received from the UK government’s furlough scheme after reporting “a good performance” this year. All firms were entitled to claim government funds to help pay staff wages while workers were furloughed during the coronavirus lockdown.
Yet William Hill has now joined the likes of Primark, Asos, Dunelm and Ikea in returning the money. “In light of the good performance and our decisive actions to preserve cash, protect liquidity and strengthen the balance sheet, we have committed to repay the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme monies, amounting to £24.5 million,” said William Hill in a statement. The bookmaker hailed the “extensive measures” it took to make customers feel safe, saying it drove footfall.
Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: “We are very pleased with the trading performance of the Group, which has been borne out of the commitment, resilience and hard work of our teams across the business. I could not be prouder of them. We have moved the company forward with our relentless focus on our customers, enhancing the competitiveness of our product, and maintaining player safety as one of our highest priorities.”
Yet William Hill did warn that unpredictable results caused by a lack of fans in stadiums will continue to lead to “volatile gross win margins”. It will also be affected by Tier 3 lockdowns across England. Right now around 140 William Hill betting shops are in areas facing the strictest local lockdowns, representing a tenth of the estate, and that has hampered profits.
Betfred founder Fred Done lashed out at the government’s decision to place large swathes of northern England into Tier 3 lockdown measures. The move has affected Betfred’s heartland, forcing the closure of 1,176 betting shops, including many Berfred properties. According to Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) figures the shops generate £38.1 million a year for horseracing in levy and media rights payments, and 5,775 employees are affected.
Done, who also holds a sizeable stake in William Hill and stands to reap the rewards of its takeover by Caesars Entertainment, said: “It looks like, despite a lack of evidence, betting shops have been unfairly forced to close in all Tier 3 regions. Our staff have worked tirelessly to make our shops Covid-19 secure and I have not seen any evidence that betting shops are sources of community transmission.
“I have also not seen any evidence that betting shops are any different to other non-essential retail outlets that are remaining open. We support measures that will stop the spread of disease but the restrictions on betting shops have not been properly thought through and are not evidence-based decisions. From this Saturday I will have over 1,500 staff at home that want to work. I would urge government to reconsider betting shops closing as part of any Tier 3 restrictions.”
Ladbrokes has tied up a six-figure deal to sponsor the November Festival at Down Royal in Ireland for the next three years. The meeting features the first Grade 1 Champion Chase of the National Hunt season, with a prize fund of €140,000, and Ladbrokes will be the title sponsor. The two-day National Hunt festival also features the WKD Hurdle and has a total prize purse of €423,500.
Emma Meehan, chief executive of Down Royal Racecourse, said: “These are unprecedented times for us all and over the past seven months the Coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on the horse racing industry. Racing behind closed doors is a very different experience for everyone involved but it is a step in the right direction for horse racing’s road to recovery, providing live coverage for racing fans and competition for those livelihoods that depend on the sport.
“Without the continued support of our principal sponsors, this most prestigious of our race meetings would not be taking place. I am so grateful to Ladbrokes and WKD for their ongoing support of the festival during this challenging time for businesses.”
Shane McLaughlin, managing director of Ladbroke Services Ireland, added: “These are clearly challenging times for everyone, but racing can provide a very welcome distraction for people and we are really looking forward to this year’s running of the Ladbrokes Champion Chase.”
Elsewhere, Ladbrokes’ parent company GVC Holdings has bolstered its board by promoting Robert Hoskin to executive director in the role of chief governance officer, while David Satz has joined as a non-executive director. “I am delighted to be welcoming two such high calibre individuals to our board,” said chairman Barry Gibson.
“David has unrivalled regulatory and legislative expertise in the all-important US gaming market. His knowledge and insight will be hugely additive in helping us to achieve our ambition of being the leading operator in the US through BetMGM, our fast-growing joint venture with MGM Resorts.”