Changing UK gambling dynamics see FTSE250 bookmaker William Hill Plc report operating losses of £721 million, closing its full-year 2018 accounts.
In its end-of-year statement, the betting group accounts for combined exceptional costs totalling £922 million. These include the ‘one-off’ £880 million retail impairment charge, confirmed during Q3 2018 trading, following the UK government’s ‘Triennial Review’ judgement lowering FOBTs stakes to a £2 minimum stake.
Operating within a tougher UK betting landscape, William Hill governance states that it has made the necessary adjustments for its retail portfolio to overcome the upcoming enforcement of £2 FOBTs stake limit, as the FTSE firm continues to remodel its retail operations and services.
Updating investors, Philip Bowcock – Group Chief Executive of William Hill – stated: “2018 was a busy and decisive year for us. Key regulatory decisions in the UK and US gave us much-needed clarity to set a new five-year strategy and a goal to double profits by 2023.
“We have three businesses at different stages, with Online growing in the UK and diversifying internationally, Retail being remodelled in response to the new £2 stake limit, and rapid expansion in the US sports betting market. Underpinning this, we have taken a clear leadership stance around safer gambling with our Nobody Harmed ambition.”
Nevertheless, further 2018 operational woes saw William Hill’s digital momentum interrupted by a £17 million charge for failure to meet enhanced customer due-diligence checks.
Supporting its digital growth ambitions, in 2019 the FTSE bookmaker will expand its digital division, incorporating the assets of Stockholm-listed MRG Group, completing its €270 million acquisition this January, as governance moves to build-up William Hill’s ‘international base and capabilities’.
International expansion is a key theme underlined throughout William Hill’s FY2018 statement, with the bookmaker detailing strong progress on its US agenda, in which it is the ‘only company operationally live in six states and a with potential access to a further 17.’
Supporting its intent on accelerating US growth prospects during 2018, William Hill records for US operating losses of £33 million, with the company accounting for stateside expansion costs of £40 million
Bowcock added: “We have started delivering on our strategy with the expansion of our US business, being first out of the blocks in all states that have regulated sports betting, and with the acquisition of Mr Green, which will support the build-out of our international digital business.
“We have also put our weight behind reducing the amount of TV gambling advertising seen by under 18s through a voluntary whistle-to-whistle advertising ban before the watershed.
“We know the next few years will require careful navigating and investment, but with a clear strategy and diverse, experienced leadership teams in place we are ready to capitalise on the opportunities available to us.”