The Australian division of UK bookmakers William Hill won’t have a courtside presence at this year’s Australian Open tennis event.
Hills made history at the 2016 Australian Open by becoming the first official betting partner of the nation’s biggest annual sporting event. The deal, believed to have been worth a cool AU$5m, marked the first time a bookie had partnered with a Grand Slam event and Hills said its betting turnover rose 80% year-on-year thanks to the extra exposure.
But the tie-up provoked no shortage of controversy, particularly in light of other bookies’ claims of suspicious betting patterns on an Australian Open match. Though investigators subsequently cleared the players involved in the suspect match, the publicity wasn’t the kind tennis organizers would have preferred.
On Thursday, Tennis Australia president Steve Healey confirmed that Hills’ courtside advertisements won’t be visible when the 2017 event gets underway next month. Healey said the 2016 deal with Hills was signed “before this [match-fixing] issue had such a high profile and so we’ve worked with our partners to address that.”
Healey insisted that the Open wasn’t severing ties with Hills, and said Hills helped the sport’s anti-corruption campaign, as formalized deals with bookies ensure mandatory reporting of suspicious betting patterns. Tennis Australia will also have two of its integrity unit’s investigative officers on hand to monitor betting activity for signs of illicit activity and gambling sites will be blocked from public WiFi at tournaments.
WILLIAM HILL STILL SEARCHING FOR PERMANENT CEO
Back at Hills’ home office, the search for a permanent replacement for former CEO James Henderson is no closer to the end. The Financial Times reported that six months of sizing up prospective candidates had yet to pay off, reportedly in part due to uncertainty surrounding the company’s potential to merge with rival operators.
The leading internal candidate is interim CEO Philip Bowcock, but Hills reportedly sent feelers to GVC Holdings CEO Kenny Alexander and former Betfair COO Mark Brooker (who joined Hills board last month), both of whom rejected the overtures.
Davy analyst David Jennings suggested that while some “high-quality experienced people” might salivate at the chance to help reverse Hills’ flagging fortunes, “ultimately they see that there is too much outside their control if they take this role. Their fortunes are, for better or worse, largely going to be dictated by regulators.”
Hills’ board stated that chairman Gareth Davies had warned that “the CEO search would be a long process and it continues to progress. The job has not been offered to anyone.”