William Hill has announced that it is permanently shutting more than 100 of its retail betting shops.
The British bookmaker announced this week that it will not be reopening 119 of its branches that were closed during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown. William Hill has confirmed that only 16 jobs would be cut as it redeployed most of its staff at other branches.
As reported by The Guardian, the closures leave William Hill with a total of 1,414 shops. What’s more, the betting firm is set to repay £24.5 million to the government which it had previously claimed to help furloughed employees.
When lockdown first began, William Hill furloughed around 7,000 staff members and the company’s revenues more than halved during the first few weeks of the UK lockdown due to the lack of sports games and events occurring around the world.
In a statement on the new closure, a William Hill spokesperson said: “We anticipate that longer-term retail footfall will not return to pre-COVID levels and 119 [UK] shops will remain closed following early lease breaks, with the majority of colleagues redeployed within the estate.”
It’s decision to close stores comes after William Hill revealed last year that it was planning on cutting down 700 shops after the government introduced a series of new regulations to reduce the maximum stake available on betting machines, hindering the company’s revenue.
The news comes as William Hill published its H1 2020 update for the period ending June 30th. In it, the firm revealed that its net revenues had dropped 32% falling from £811.7 million to £554.4 million as a result of the COVID-19 disruptions.
Despite the drop in revenue, William Hill turned its efforts to its online services and saw online gaming increase by 1% from £367.3 million to £369.3 million. As reported by SBCNews, the company’s international net revenue increased 10% which William Hill attributed to “increasing traction from product developments launched late in 2019, a shift from retail to online and some substitutions from sports betting”.
Speaking about the company’s continued success during these unprecedented times, William Hill Chief Executive Officer Ulrik Bengtsson said: “I am delighted with William Hill’s performance in these extraordinary times. 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.
“We are pleased with the moves we have taken to further strengthen customer protection, sending over 1.2 million player safety messages, and we are fully supportive of an evidence-based approach to the review of the Gambling Act, as suggested by the recent House of Lords report.”
He continued: “We have clear proof that our strategy of focusing on Customer, Team and Execution is working. 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.”
Then, touching on William Hill’s decision to repay the furlough funds, Bengtsson said: “The furlough scheme provided welcome and timely support and meant we could protect the jobs of our 7,000 UK retail colleagues. Therefore, given the strength of our recovery post-lockdown, we have decided to repay the furlough funds.
“We have continued to develop both our technology platform and our product offerings, with more significant enhancements to come in the second half. The balance sheet has been strengthened by the prompt actions we took to keep cash in the business, the successful placing, and the recognition of the VAT refund.
“As a result, we have the financial strength to confidently pursue our growth agenda, taking advantage of our market-leading position in sports betting in the US, and the terrific opportunity that Eldorado’s merger with Caesar’s brings.”
As the company was challenged with various hurdles here in the UK, William Hill has continued to further expand its United States-based operations. Just this past week, the sports betting company launched a sportsbook shop in Illinois at the Grand Victoria Casino Elgin in partnership with Caesar’s Entertainment.
According to reports, the sportsbook, which has implemented social distancing measures, can be found adjacent to the casino and features three ticket windows and several televisions which regularly air sports games and events for betting on.
It also opened a temporary sportsbook shop in Washington D.C. at the Capital One Arena Box Office which features seven ticket windows and 10 betting terminals. The firm has confirmed that it plans on establishing a permanent retail space in the area but is awaiting regulatory approval. The permanent shop is set to launch later this year if approved.
However, William Hill’s shops in Illinois and Washington D.C. aren’t the only ones in the US as the bookmaker has already established shops in Colorado at the Lady Luck Casino and Isle Casino Hotel in Black Hawk.
The news also comes as the Nevada Gaming Control Board is set to review an application submitted by William Hill for the company to take over the sportsbooks of CG Technology at several Las Vegas casinos. They include The Cosmopolitan, Palazzo, Palms, The Venetian, Silverton, and Tropicana.
Currently, Las Vegas casinos are in the process of reopening and all are following the COVID-19 guidelines including the implementation of strict social distancing measures where a maximum of three people are allowed at tables. Venues have also installed perplex screens at tills, bars, and casino tables, and staff have been instructed to frequently clean all tables, machines, casino chips, and more.
Back in the UK, however, casinos are struggling. The British government announced at the end of last month that all casino venues would be allowed to reopen from August 1st but quickly made a u-turn on the decision and delayed the reopening until August 14th.
The decision was made after a string of confirmed cases across northern England where the government reintroduced lockdown measures, prohibiting people from different households meeting together. The delay has been criticised by the Betting and Gaming Council as well as by gambling industry workers as brands such as Buzz Bingo, Genting Casino, and Grosvenor Casino continue to struggle and have announced layoffs.