William Hill has decided not to reopen 119 of its betting shops, as it today posted a plunge in profits for the 26 weeks to June 30.
Profits fell 85% to £11.8 million due to a £81.9 million Covid-related impairment charge while revenues shrunk by 32% to £554.4 million on the previous year. It said the cost of the shop closures would be "minimal" and its international online business grew by 17%.
Chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson told the Standard that "virtually" no jobs will be cut by the closures, with jobs reallocated to different parts of the business. He dubbed the decision a "small pruning" of its 1414-strong store estate.
He said: “It’s clear that Covid has an effect on footfall on the High Street. We are very much aware of that… We think footfall will see a permanent decline of 10-15% and that’s baked into all of our assumptions.”
The bookmaker has been hit by the enforced shuttering of all of its betting shops during the Covid-19 lockdown, and and the cancellation of all sport. Its shops were allowed to reopen on June 15.
Companies in the industry had instead seen bored Britons instead turn to online gaming to get their gambling fix. However, the resumption of some sports with no fans in stadiums since June has aided bookies.
The company said the £2 stake limit on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals introduced in 2019 had led it to shut 713 shops, and the Covid-19 pandemic had added to these woes.
William Hill said today: “The group has been impacted by the global COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the Group taking the decision to not re-open a further 119 shops after lockdown restrictions were lifted in the UK and to increased uncertainty of future high street retail cashflows.”
It added: “In light of the robust recovery in the opening weeks of the second half, since mainstream sport resumed and our shops re-opened, Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme monies (the 'Furlough Funds') received from the UK government amounting to £24.5 million will be repaid.”
The FTSE 250 company raised £224 million in June in a discounted share sale, the proceed of which were expected to be used to cut debts and expand in the US.
William Hill has put greater emphasis on growing in the US since the Supreme Court overturned an act limiting sports betting in the States in 2018. However, this strategy could take a knock as the US attempts to battle a surge in coronavirus cases.