Online gamble paying off for Hill

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GROWTH in the online operation of the UK’s largest bookmaker William Hill is likely to create jobs in Leeds, said the financial director of Britain’s biggest bookmaker, as it revealed the division recorded a second successive year of revenues growth in excess of 20 per cent.

Online net revenues were up 28 per cent in 2011 to £321.3m on the previous year, following the continued expansion of its online offering through new mobile and text-betting channels, said Ralph Topping, chief executive.

Even without a major football tournament and including a £9m rise in VAT payments due to last January’s rate change, William Hill said its underlying profits rose 9 per cent to £239.4m in 2011. It said its retail arm produced a resilient performance, with amounts wagered up 6 per cent but profits down 4 per cent to £196.8m following a run of unfavourable results, mainly in football. The amount generated by gaming machines was up 9 per cent.

William Hill employs more than 15,000 people, including around 3,000 staff in Yorkshire, of which more than 1,100 are based in Leeds, where the company has two offices. Under its retail section, operations, human resources and marketing are all based in Leeds, while trading and IT for the whole group are also in the city. The company also has a call centre in Sheffield.

Neil Cooper, group finance director, said: “Our plans for the region continue to be as a hub for our operations.

“The business growth in online will continue to require support in terms of trading and information technology, and obviously since those are based in Leeds that creates opportunities for locals in terms of jobs. I’m aware we’ve been expanding our IT function in Leeds and have been looking to recruit locally.

“And equally, trading, I mean growing your online sportsbook by 50 per cent requires input from more people.

“So overall our plans have been to see growth in IT, in operations in trading, which would typically benefit Leeds.”

He added: “In general, we are a growing business. Retail profit fell slightly but actually that was as much because we’ve increased the tax payments we’re making to the Government, putting that aside, our net revenue in retail grew and obviously online is growing very strongly and those will benefit Leeds in terms of recruitment of operational jobs in IT and in trading.”

The group’s pre-tax profit before exceptional items were added, was up 9 per cent to £239.4m, while pre-tax profit, after exceptional items, was down 3 per cent to £187.4m. Exceptional costs included “writing off some intangible assets” relating to the telephone business, said Mr Cooper.

The fortunes of the group’s retail arm have improved since the turn of the year, with its win margin up from last year’s 16.8 per cent to 18.1 per cent, although February’s adverse weather meant amounts wagered slowed to show 2 per cent growth.

The online division has continued to trade well, it added, with revenues up 30 per cent in the first seven weeks of the year, including 64 per cent growth in its sportsbook. William Hill said it would look to expand internationally to take advantage of countries legalising gambling.