William Hill to Permanently Close 119 UK Betting Stores

  • Sportsbook operator does not believe store footfall will reach pre-pandemic levels
  • Most of the 300 affected staff will be redeployed to other UK outlets
  • William Hill is in the process of repaying the government £24.5m worth of furlough funds
  • Q2 figures show pre-tax profit of £141m ($185.3m) in H1, revenue falling by a third
  • Company has focused on US growth, now controls nearly a third of the US sports betting market
William Hill betting store sign
119 William Hill betting stores in the UK will remain closed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Drop in customer footfall expected

William Hill will not be reopening 119 of its UK High Street betting stores as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The sportsbook operator currently has about 1,500 retail outlets in the region and does not believe customer numbers will be as high as they were pre-pandemic.

The company has secured early-lease breaks on these 119 locations. About 300 staff will be affected, with most being redeployed to other branches.

repaying £24.5m ($32.2m) worth of furlough funds

William Hill also noted that its trading has recovered since the lifting of a nationwide lockdown and the resumption of sporting events. It is in the process of repaying £24.5m ($32.2m) worth of furlough funds to the UK government.

The COVID-19 furlough scheme provided financial coverage for about 7,000 retail jobs at William Hill UK during the pandemic.

Financial impact of COVID-19

The sportsbook company reported its second-quarter financial figures on Wednesday, posting a pre-tax profit of £141m ($185.3m) for the first six months of 2020. This is in contrast with the £63m ($82.8m) loss for the same period last year.

revenue dropped by about a third

However, revenue dropped by about a third, down to £554m ($727.9m), amid betting store closures and a lack of sporting events to provide wagering opportunities.

William Hill also recorded strong pre-COVID-19 trading, with the operator managing to effectively control costs at the height of the pandemic. A £201.6m ($264.9m) VAT refund it received earlier this year allowed the company to remain profitable.

Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said of the company’s performance: “Our team has been remarkable, supporting each other and our customers throughout the pandemic, and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.”

Previous store closures

William Hill’s UK retail stores have been back in post-lockdown operation since June 15. This latest set of betting store closures comes after its 2019 announcement that it was closing 713 outlets. The decision was mainly due to the maximum stake cut from £100 ($131.40) to £2 ($2.63) on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in the UK.

With FOBTs serving as major revenue drivers for betting stores, most retail sportsbooks no longer financially viable after the new regulations came into effect on April 1, 2019. 

Focusing on the US market

William Hill has recently been focusing on its US presence in order to take advantage of the ever-growing legal sports betting market. According to the quarterly report, its international online business grew by 17%, and it now controls nearly a third of the US sports betting market. The operator opened its first-ever Colorado, Illinois, and Washington, DC sportsbooks in the last two weeks.

controls nearly a third of the US sports betting market

In June, William Hill raised £224m ($294.3m) through a share placement to help strengthen its balance sheet and help with its US expansion plans. One of its main opportunities in the US is the recently approved merger between Caesars Entertainment and Eldorado Resorts. William Hill US signed a partnership agreement in September 2018 to manage Eldorado Resorts’ sportsbooks for 25 years. This gives the betting company immediate access to Caesars’ 29 live retail and mobile sportsbooks.