William Hill sees gambling on the mobile overtake desktop

Terry Pattinson, Group Trading Director for William Hill, based in Leeds.
Terry Pattinson, Group Trading Director for William Hill, based in Leeds.
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MOBILE gambling moved ahead of desktop for the first time last year at Britain’s biggest bookmaker.

William Hill said PC-only users represented less than half of online customers in 2013 as punters placed more bets on smartphones and tablets.

The group reported operating profit of £335m last year, an increase of 3 per cent on a year earlier. Revenue rose 18 per cent to £1.49bn of which net retail revenue accounted for £907m, up 10 per cent, and online revenue rose 12 per cent to £446m.

William Hill’s international markets in Australia and the United States continued to grow and accounted for 15 per cent of revenues.

Ralph Topping, the veteran chief executive, said: “Our focused transformation of the group over the last five years means William Hill is now one of the world’s leading multi-channel betting and gaming businesses, with revenues diversified through the rapid growth of online and through careful expansion into selected international markets.”

William Hill is a major employer in Yorkshire with 3,000 staff, including 1,300 in Leeds, who are led by Terry Pattinson, the group trading director. The city is home to William Hill’s retail, trading and IT operations.

Annual results revealed that mobile gaming net revenue leapt 175 per cent higher last year on a 52-week basis, helping overall online sales rise 12 per cent to £446.3m.

William Hill, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year, said mobile gaming represented 39 per cent of all wagering in 2013.

Mr Topping said: “Online’s sportsbook performance continues to be sparkling, with staking levels up around 400 per cent over the five years since the start of 2009.”

Its chain of more than 2,400 betting shops also saw resilient trading, with revenues up 10 per cent thanks in part to the increasing popularity of controversial fixed odds betting machines, which saw revenues rise by a fifth.

William Hill expanded its gaming machine estate by 3 per cent to more than 9,400 over the year, but there have been increasing calls for the use of the machines – dubbed the “crack cocaine of gambling” – to be banned or limited.

A new code of conduct was announced by the Association of British Bookmakers yesterday allowing gamblers to set limits on the amount of time and money they spend on gaming machines, as well as introducing mandatory alerts when a customer has spent £250 or played for 30 minutes.

Over the counter betting was also resilient for William Hill over the year, rising by 2 per cent thanks to favourable horseracing and football results for the group, although retail earnings dropped 7 per cent to £196.3m on a 52-week basis after a hit from the introduction of machine games duty.

Bottom line profits fell 6 per cent to £257m after a number of one-off impacts, such as the cost of buying Sportingbet’s Australian business last March.

Its results came in stark contrast to rival Ladbrokes, which posted a 66 per cent slump in profits earlier this week as its online capability trailed behind.

William Hill said trading since the year-end had seen an improvement following hefty losses on football results in January after the top seven Premier League football teams all secured victories.

The group warned last month of a loss of around £13m from the Premier League wins and said that results had continued to go against the group over the rest of the month, but were “more positive” in February.

Amounts wagered have risen 4 per cent across its betting shops so far this year and have soared by 46 per cent online.

Shares in the group rose 5 per cent after the results, with the market also reassured as William Hill outlined plans to offset the introduction of a new tax regime for online gambling in December.

It said it was a “market-changing event”, but aims to mitigate the impact by slashing costs by between £15m and £20m. The group will make the savings largely by cutting marketing spend.

Spokeswoman Kate Miller told the Yorkshire Post that the group’s Leeds operations are working towards this summer’s World Cup. She expects William Hill’s revenues from the Brazilian football tournament to eclipse both Cheltenham and the Grand National this year.

The Share Centre said: “2014 could be a good year for William Hill as the World Cup encourages more people to place bets. The global appeal of events William Hill cover means it is involved with most major sporting events as its mobile strategy is making gambling more accessible.”