The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt across the gambling industry in the U.K. as William Hill were forced to close 119 betting shops permanently. The betting operator announced that the extended impact of COVID-19 on U.K. retail markets had meant the staff from the 119 affected sites would be redeployed to some of the other 1,500 betting shops that the bookmaker has in the country. Approximately 300 staff are expected to be affected by the restructuring.
The company said in a statement that they had made a positive recovery in the opening weeks of the second half of the year, thanks in large part to the resumption of the English Premier League, Germany’s Bundesliga, Major League Baseball and horse racing with the rebound. William Hill stated that they would be repaying £24.5 million job retention scheme allowance back to the government.
William Hill Chief Executive Ulrik Bengtsson acknowledged the challenges that his company has faced in the U.K. with the COVID-19 pandemic. “It has probably been the most difficult circumstances of my and many of my colleagues’ professional lives to guide the company through all this. Coming out the way we did and actually making a small profit in the period is incredible.” Bengtsson said.
Bengtsson felt positive about the company’s position, adding that paying back the furlough retention scheme was a priority. “I am delighted with William Hill’s performance in these extraordinary times. The furlough scheme provided welcome and timely support and meant we could protect the jobs of our 7,000 U.K. retail colleagues. Therefore, given the strength of our recovery post-lockdown, we have decided to repay the furlough funds. I think that’s the right thing to do.”
William Hill saw a 32.5 percent decline in revenue for the first half of the year, the drop was the after effect of the enforced pandemic lockdown across the U.K. The company bounced back in July to record a profit of £141.1 million, which included a boost of a £201.6 million tax refund.
Bengtsson felt that William Hill was in a strong position to press home their advantage for the second half of 2020. “Our trading was strong before Covid-19, we controlled costs effectively during the lockdown and we have recovered well post-lockdown with good performances in our online businesses throughout the first half.”
The company was further boosted by moves in the U.S. market, with states now moving towards legalised online sports betting. “We made excellent progress in our U.S. business,” Bengtsson said.
“It’s hard to deny that we are already in the second wave in the U.S. to some extent … as long as major sports events are back, we are quite confident of how this business is going to develop,” he added.