William Hill looks to brighter future in 2017

Jockey Tom Scudamore celebrates winning the Ryanair World Hurdle on Thistlecrack during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival
Jockey Tom Scudamore celebrates winning the Ryanair World Hurdle on Thistlecrack during St Patrick's Thursday of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival
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Bookmaker William Hill ​said profits were dragged down by punter-friendly football and horse racing results last year, but the firm has seen a much better start to 2017.

The group, which employs 1,300 people in Leeds, said trading in the seven weeks to Feb​ruary​ 14 has shown positive trends.​

William Hill is a major employer in Yorkshire, with more than a fifth of its global workforce in the region. Interim chief executive Philip Bowcock said Leeds is a key area for the group going forward.

“Leeds is a very important location for us,” he said.

“It’s a very rich source of talent and the University provides the mathematicians we need.”

The Leeds workforce cover three areas. It is a key technology hub, a trading hub and the head office for the retail function.

Mr Bowcock said the group is well placed to improve its performance in 2017.

“The business overall is in a far stronger position compared with this time last year. We are seeing the benefits coming through and we are getting momentum,” he said.

“The business is in a good place.”

Adjusted operating profit fell 10​ per cent​ to £261.5​m in the year to December​ 27​, with William Hill taking a big hit on Boxing Day​ when ​18 of the 20 best-backed sides won, meaning big payouts at the firm’s expense. One punter turned £20 into £103,000 when an 11-game accumulator bet paid off.

Like other bookmakers, William Hill was also hit after a string of favourites romped home at Cheltenham in March.

Nevertheless, revenue nudged up 1​ per cent​ to £1.6​bn over the period.

The company has struggled to cope with the shift to online gambling, but Mr Bowcock said that he is seeing “encouraging signs” in this division, which is now “delivering sustained growth”.

​​William Hill said it has seen favourable sporting results since the new year, with Liverpool’s barren run of results helping to drive takings.

The betting sector is also waiting for the conclusion of a ​G​overnment probe that could include a clampdown on betting machines and advertising.

​Analyst ​Jason Holden at Liberum, said: “William Hill endured a very disappointing 2016.

“On a more positive note, the recent trends in UK online offer some encouragement but we continue to see an outlook clouded by major uncertainty over the outcome of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport review into gaming machines.

​“Meanwhile there is no update on the appointment of a permanent CEO.​“​

William Hill said it ​i​s set to name a new chief executive shortly.​ ​The betting chain has been without a permanent chief executive since losing patience with James Henderson last July.

​I​nterim CEO Philip Bowcock ​is expected to be appointed to the role full time.

Chairman Gareth Davis said​: “I am pleased to say that we are now entering the final stages and expect to complete an announcement in a few weeks’ time​.​”​

William Hill has missed out on a round of mergers in the sector which has created stronger competitors as European rivals Paddy Power and Betfair joined forces, while Ladbrokes merged with Gala Coral.

Analyst Greg Johnson at Shore Capital said: "William Hill’s difficulties in 2016 had been well flagged with issues facing the effectiveness of its marketing and poor front-end capabilities.

​"​Encouragingly, these issues are appearing to have been addressed with the underlying improvement witnessed in the second last year continuing into 2017.

​"​The current year is said to have started well with positive trends in amounts wagered in all four divisions, especially in ​o​nline with UK Sportsbook amounts wagered up 10​ per cent​ and UK Gaming net revenue up 8​ per cent​​."