UK-based gambling groups have targeted growth in online betting and new markets in order to offset sharp losses in revenue from high street betting shops, many of which remain closed under government-ordered lockdowns.
Entain, owner of the Ladbrokes and Coral brands, said on Thursday that its gambling websites had had “significant uplifts as a result of retail closure” and that it expected the shift to online to cover permanent damage to demand in bricks-and-mortar stores.
Revenues across its retail estate fell 40 per cent to £857m in 2020 with a sharp drop from an underlying operating profit of £172.3m in 2019 to a £19m loss last year.
Its online operations, by contrast, posted an increase of 28 per cent in revenues to £2.7bn, while underlying operating profit rose by almost two-thirds to £679m, as punters turned to online betting to ease lockdown boredom.
William Hill, which operates 1,414 shops in the UK after closing 119 during the first national lockdown last year, said that its online growth had partially offset the closures of betting shops and casinos, in which it has a large proportion of its US gambling assets.
Retail net revenues fell 51 per cent to £1.1bn, while it reported an adjusted loss of £29.5m for retail, down from a profit of £83m in 2019.
The bookmaker, which traditionally has been more reliant on the UK for its revenues, said that it had more marginal increases online than Entain with digital gambling revenues up 9 per cent to £803m and adjusted operating profit up 3 per cent to £122m.
Both gambling companies have joined the aggressive push for market share in the US, where states began to open up to sports betting and online gaming in 2018. They have rapidly increased the number of states they were operating in during 2020.
William Hill said that revenues from its US operations rose by almost a third to £167m with operating profits of £12m. Entain meanwhile said that its joint venture with the casino company MGM had delivered revenues of $178m during 2020, ahead of its upper expectation of $160m, but that investment in expansion resulted in a $60m loss for the group, which it expected to “increase significantly” this year.