William Hill to buyback up to 300 million pounds of its own shares

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Britain\’s largest bookmaker announced a plan to buy back between 200 to 300 million pounds of its own shares over the next 18 months, after it reported a 17 per cent drop, to 99.7m, in pre-tax profits for the first half of the year.a 17 per cent drop, to 99.7m, in pre-tax profits for the first half of the year.

Turnover rose 30 per cent to 5.05bn, while the overall gross win was up 0.3 per cent to 383.4m.

The over the counter business suffered from a run of unfavourable sporting results and reported a 11 per cent drop in gross win, while the telephone business coupled disappointing horse racing and football results with the relative inability to stimulate recycling amongst higher staking telephone clientele and witnessed a 17 per cent fall in winnings.  

This was partly offset by a 35 per cent increase in winnings from Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) and by a 17 per cent growth in gross win for the group\’s interactive channel, primarily driven by a 151 per cent increase in poker revenues and a solid performance from the casino operation, helped by the large amount of marketing and publicity surrounding the industry.

Operating profits for the interactive channel were up 30 per cent to 31.7m, contributing over 25 per cent of the group\’s overall profit.

Total active online accounts increased slightly at 316,000, while telephone accounts remained flat at 184,000.

Chief Executive David Harding said sporting results had improved in the nine weeks ended 30 August 2005, with the gross win rate rising to 5.5 per cent, and that he remained confident about the group\’s future prospects.

Harding also said that current trading would have been better had it not been for the remarkable success of the Racing Post\’s influential tipster Pricewise.