William Hill closes 70 shops ahead of machine tax increase

williamhillsignWilliam Hill has closed 70 shops since the budget and intends to close another 12 shortly, according to the bookmaker’s interim report. HM Treasury’s announcement of an increase in MGD from 20 per cent to 25 per cent from 1 March 2015 saw the bookmaker pledging to close 109 outlets in order to absorb the higher taxation costs, and the firm is well on the way.

Despite this, the UK’s largest bookmaker said it operated an ‘average’ of 2,436 shops in the period, around 2 per cent higher than 2013. In what William Hill described as ‘the normal course of business’, 20 new licences were opened, five shops refitted and nine closed.

The bookmaker also acknowledged that while there has been a high level of attention focused on regulation, particularly in relation to gaming machines, high street planning regulations and sector-wide advertising, the board have worked closely with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to identify measures to address public and political concerns.

It said: “We expect to implement the measures to increase scrutiny of higher stake gaming machine play in the first half of 2015, based on the Government’s plan to legislate in the autumn. This is in addition to the industry’s own voluntary Code for Responsible Gambling, which was implemented by 1 March 2014. We believe there is value to all concerned in taking an appropriate amount of time to embed these measures and to assess their benefit, alongside reviewing the outcome of the Responsible Gambling Trust ongoing behavioural research, due to report in the autumn.”

Retail increased over the counter wagers by £25m during the first half of 2014. Figures show that OTC amounts wagered for the first half of the year stood at £1,281.9m, up from £1,256.3m last year. However, this was offset by reduced operating profit, which fell by seven per cent.

The group’s roll-out of new-generation Eclipse gaming machines helped to halve the estate and they have decided to add Eclipse to the remaining estate, starting this month. Gaming machines saw five per cent underlying net revenue growth.

The bookmaker added: “Since the period end, we have extended our contract with Inspired Gaming to 2019 and plan to roll out Eclipse to the remainder of the estate from August 2014. Gross win per machine per week increased from £910 to £931. Underlying machines net revenue in Q2 was up 4%, following on from the 5% growth rate seen in Q1.”

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