William Hill buys out online partner

WILLIAM Hill, Britain’s largest bookmaker, is paying £424m to take full control of its fast-growing online business, buying out partner Playtech.

William Hill will raise around £375m in a rights issue to help fund its second major acquisition of the past three months.

It has already agreed to pay £460m to acquire the Australian and Spanish operations of online gambling company Sportingbet. That deal is scheduled to complete on March 19.

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The two transactions would mark a major transformation of William Hill, set up in 1934 and a familiar name on the high street where it has more than 2,000 betting shops across the country.

The company has been aiming to build up its overseas operations and continue its strong growth in online gambling.

“Today marks a major milestone for William Hill as we propose taking full control of William Hill Online,” said chief executive Ralph Topping.

“This move rounds off a successful 12 months which have seen us take our first steps into the US and, through the pending Sportingbet acquisition, lay the foundations for growth in the attractive Australian market.”

Playtech holds a 29 per cent stake in the online venture, formed at the end of 2008.

William Hill, which employs more than 3,000 people in Yorkshire, including over 1,300 people in Leeds, posted surging annual profits and revenues.

Sales increased 12 per cent to £1.3bn and pre-tax profits were up 48 per cent to £277.7m.