Profits fall at William Hill

Bookmaker William Hill announced a £200m share buyback and hiked its full-year dividend, despite a fall in profit for the year.

The company said it intended to pay about half of its adjusted earnings in dividends to shareholders going forward, from about 40 per cent earlier.

William Hill said its operating profit for 2015 fell 22 per cent to £291.4m, hurt by increased taxes on its UK online and retail units.

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James Henderson, chief executive officer of William Hill, said: “We have reviewed our priorities for capital alongside our strengthening balance sheet and our continued good cash generation.

“Together, these underpin our decision to announce a share buyback alongside our ongoing investment to grow the business. In addition, the board has increased the dividend payout ratio to around 50 per cent of adjusted earnings, reflecting our focus on delivering value for shareholders.”

Mr Henderson said “In the last 12 months we have made substantial operational progress against our three strategic priorities of omni-channel, technology and international.

“In technology terms, Online now has a platform that allows us to deliver rapid and frequent innovations to customers, further differentiating our offering. We are also now preparing to roll out our proprietary self-service betting terminal in Retail. This is an important part of our omni-channel strategy and enables us to bring the best of Online to our shops.”

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He added: “We have made further good progress on measures to encourage responsible gambling, including using algorithms to identify potentially harmful behaviour and helping to develop a national, cross-operator self-exclusion scheme.

“As one of the largest scale businesses in gambling, the board is confident in the outlook for the year ahead and believes the group is well placed to deliver on its growth strategy.

William Hill is a major employer in Yorkshire, with more than a fifth of its global workforce in the region.

It employs 1,300 alone in Leeds, mainly in its technical and trading teams.