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William Hill shutting 119 stores for good post-lockdown

Betting giant William Hill is keeping 119 of its betting shops across the UK closed for good amid fears in-store customer levels will not return to pre-pandemic levels.

A spokesperson for William Hill told This is Money that less than 20 people would lose their jobs, with around 300 set to be redeployed to other sites within the company.  

The closures will leave the betting firm with over 1,414 stores across the UK. William Hill has not yet revealed the location of the 119 sites staying shut. 

A spokesperson for William Hill told This is Money: ‘We are very comfortable with the scale and performance of our retail estate; we think we have got the balance right.

‘But we will always look at performance as leases are up for renewal. This is just part of normal business practice.’

The company’s management also announced today that it will be repaying the £24.5million received from the Government as part of the coronavirus job retention scheme. 

William Hill said in its latest results today: ‘Our retail format remains popular with our customers and we saw flat like-for-like net revenue during the last two weeks of the reporting period as the estate re-opened gradually and safely. 

‘Nonetheless, we anticipate that longer term retail footfall will not return to pre-COVID levels and 119 shops will remain closed following early lease breaks, with the majority of colleagues redeployed within the estate. 

‘The recently announced integration of UK Retail with UK Online will further optimise the value of our shop estate and deliver an even better experience with one view of our UK customer base.’

The group said the cost of the store closures would be ‘minimal.’ 

The company’s closure revelations emerged as the group posted a stinging slump in profits for the six months to June.  

Profits fell 85 per cent to £11.8million, while revenues shrunk by 32 per cent to £554.4million on the previous year. 

The betting firm has been hit hard by the pandemic amid the enforced temporary closure of its stores and the mass cancellation of sporting events. It was allowed to start reopening its stores again from 15 June.

William Hill said that its betting shops remain ‘popular’ with customers and had been encouraged by footfall levels over the last few weeks. 

It said: ‘The business has traded well since mainstream sport resumed and our UK shops have re-opened and we are encouraged by the early indications.’

The company said its online arm was also enjoying ‘good progress’ after a ‘robust’ first half. 

Its international online arm saw growth of 17 per cent, while its expansion in the US has helped expand its market share there to 29 per cent.

Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson said: ‘I am delighted with William Hill’s performance in these extraordinary times. Our team has been remarkable, supporting each other and our customers throughout the pandemic, and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.

‘The furlough scheme provided welcome and timely support, and meant we could protect the jobs of our 7,000 UK retail colleagues. Therefore, given the strength of our recovery post-lockdown, we have decided to repay the furlough funds.’

FTSE 250-listed William Hill’s share price is up 3.63 per cent or 4.25p to 121.40p this morning. A year ago the company’s share price stood at around the 138.80p mark. 

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said: ‘An encouraging performance post lockdown as sport returned and news it is further streamlining its estate of shops helped give William Hill a lift as it announced first half results.

‘While the cancellation of nearly all sporting events, at least for a large part of the period, was a negative, the company managed to show some flexibility in generating increased revenue from online casino games and the like instead.

‘In an environment where many businesses are struggling financially a reduction in net debt is also welcome for shareholders.’

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