Football to rescue as Hill hit by Olympic effect

BOOKMaker William Hill said the Olympics and Paralympics meant there were fewer punters at its betting shops in August.

But the London 2012 disappointment in its retail chain was offset by a good performance from football results, including a strong Euro 2012 in July, and a 42 per cent surge in online earnings in the group’s third quarter.

William Hill, which tabled a proposed joint bid for rival Sportingbet earlier this week, reported a 26 per cent rise in operating profits in the quarter to September 25.

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Its 2,379-strong retail arm saw operating profits rise eight per cent despite a poor horse racing season due to the record early summer rainfall and particularly quiet August amid the Olympics.

The group said amounts wagered fell six per cent, but this was offset by a higher win margin.

Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, said: “The Olympics and Paralympics captured the public’s attention, but appear to have reduced customer visits in retail.”

The update follows news on Tuesday that Paradise Poker firm Sportingbet is backing an increased takeover offer from William Hill and bid partner European gaming company GVC in a deal valuing the online firm at more than £400m.

William Hill – Britain’s biggest bookmaker – also announced a raft of changes at its internet arm as it confirmed it was considering taking full control of its fast growing online business.

It has the option to buy the 29 per cent minority stake in William Hill Online owned by partner Playtech and said it would start the valuation process, with a decision due in the first quarter of 2013.

William Hill added that online boss Henry Birch was stepping down to be replaced by head of mobile Andrew Lee, who is being promoted to managing director.

The division has seen strong growth since it was launched as a joint venture with Playtech in December 2008.

William Hill said online operating profits leapt to £34.8m in the third quarter.

Ivor Jones, analyst at Numis Securities, said the results were “strong” against weak comparatives from a year earlier.

William Hill employs around 3,000 staff in Yorkshire, of which about 1,100 are based in Leeds.