William Hill closes 119 UK shops as virus spurs online shift


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A branded sign is displayed outside a William Hill betting shop in London

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(Reuters) – Bookmaker William Hill reported a better-than-expected first-half profit on Wednesday, while announcing 119 UK betting shops closed by coronavirus lockdowns would not reopen as it combines its online and retail British businesses.

The company, one of the big UK gambling concerns that are also now expanding into newly opened U.S. betting markets, said overall revenue slumped by 32% in the first half compared to a year ago as the lockdowns shuttered its high street network.

International online grew 17%, however, and online net revenue 1%, and it said the closure of the retail shops, part of a longer-term shift towards online, would come at effectively no cost and see staff moved to other roles.

The company, which raised money in a cash call a month ago to support its business through the crisis, said adjusted operating profit of 11.8 million pounds was ahead of expectations thanks to swift cost cuts and the online growth.

“Our trading was strong before COVID-19, we controlled costs effectively during lockdown and we have recovered well post-lockdown with good performances in our online businesses throughout the first half,” Chief Executive Ulrik Bengtsson said.

The resumption of sporting events, such as horse-racing, UK’s Premier League and Germany’s Bundesliga, in recent weeks has helped bookmakers. William Hill has three Premier League betting partnerships – with Chelsea, Everton and Tottenham.

Adjusted operating profit in the same period a year ago was 76.2 million pounds.

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