Betting Business Bulletin 12th February 2018

1,600 jobs to go after GVC takeover of Ladbrokes Coral

Around 1,600 jobs are set to be lost as a result of GVC’s takeover of Ladbrokes Coral, it emerged last week.

The prospectus sent to shareholders of the two companies last week said that redundancies were likely where the two businesses have overlapping functions “such as in trading, customer service, marketing and central functions” or where “operational efficiencies” have been identified.

The reduction in total headcount would be less than six per cent of the combined group’s combined employee base of 26,800 but the figure did not include any impact on betting shop staff as a result of the government’s review of FOBT stakes.

It has already been announced that Ladbrokes Coral chief executive Jim Mullen will leave following the completion of the deal, with GVC’s chief executive Kenny Alexander taking over that role in the enlarged group.

Ladbrokes Coral’s head office at Victoria Street, London would close as part of the deal.

A trading update issued by Ladbrokes Coral to coincide with the publication of the prospectus said the company’s operating profits for 2017 were at the top end of management expectations.

GVC’s deal to take over Ladbrokes Coral is the subject of an inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority, it was also revealed last week.

Donal McCabe, Ladbrokes Coral’s group communications director, said: “This is a process you have to go through on any deal and we’re not aware there would be any competition issues.”

Industry slips up at Ice

There was more bad publicity for the gambling industry last week as calls by Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison for exhibitors at the annual industry trade show Ice to stop sexist practices fell on deaf ears.

At the start of the week Harrison said the regulator could boycott the London event in future as she referred to previous shows which featured women wearing “nothing more than swimsuits” to promote exhibitors, something she said was a “significant stain on the industry’s reputation”.

Organisers Clarion Gaming and the European Casino Association had asked exhibitors at the event “to ensure a respectful gender representation” but not all listened, including one online casino who had pole dancers on their stand.

Harrison also criticised the industry on a number of fronts in one of her final major speeches before she leaves the commission to take up a senior role with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy at the end of the month.

Harrison said she was disappointed that industry funding to GambleAware to support investment in research, education and treatment amounted to just £3.50 for every person thought to be a problem gambler or at risk of becoming one, and that it was “lamentable” that Britain compared unfavourably to other countries on that score.

Harrison also criticised the tone of the debate between the sectors of the industry over FOBTs as “often no better than what you might find in the playground”.

She also highlighted the action carried out by the Competition and Markets Authority over online gambling terms and conditions as clearly demonstrating “the failure by operators to show they put consumer interests at the heart of their businesses”.

Flint tells industry to face up to problem gambling issue

Ice also featured a speech by Sky Bet chief executive Richard Flint who told the betting industry it needs to listen to its opponents and the public and recognise it has a genuine issue with problem gambling.

Speaking on the first day of the show, Flint unveiled a four-point plan he hoped the wider industry could adopt to reduce harm, saying it was clear the industry can and should do more to help vulnerable customers.

He said: “In order to do this the industry must first of all recognise it has an issue. And I don’t just mean a PR or reputational issue. I mean a genuine, evidence-based subject that it must play its part in addressing.”

Flint added: “In the past our industry has also not done itself any favours – and I include Sky Betting & Gaming in this criticism – in its attitude towards harmful gambling.

“The major online players in Britain, including Sky Betting & Gaming, now need to build on this start and become part of the solution, rather than part of that problem. And to do so we will need to work together and support the work of regulators and government.”

Hancock put on spot

FOBTs are rarely out of the political spotlight and were again last week as new culture secretary Matt Hancock came under sustained questioning on the subject in the Commons.

Appearing at Digital, Culture, Media and Sport questions for the first time since taking over as head of the department, Hancock was put under pressure by MPs to decide that stakes should be reduced to £2 following the government’s gambling review.

Labour MP Stephen Timms described the machines as “vile” and betting shops as “tawdry and soulless high street outlets”, adding: “Will the secretary of state now call time on this racket, with its £1.5 billion a year welfare burden, and cut the maximum stake to £2?”

Hancock replied: “I know that the issue of fixed odds betting terminals raises strong emotions in the House and around the country, and it is very important we approach it properly.

“Especially coming from the right honourable gentleman, who is widely respected across the House and was a member of the government when the expansion of FOBTs happened, that is a telling statement.”

Shadow sports minister Rosena Allin-Khan said the government must intervene and asked Hancock: “Will the secretary of state answer my simple question and commit today to reducing the maximum FOBT stake to £2 a spin?”

He replied: “What I will do is commit to reducing the maximum FOBT stake, and to responding to the consultation in due course and in the proper way. We must ensure we come to the right answer on this question.”

Done unhappy with RUK move

The controversy over the decision to switch coverage of Irish racing and Chelmsford City racecourse from At The Races to Racing UK continued last week, with Betfred founder Fred Done stepping into the fray.

Done, who owns Chelmsford, described the move as a “backwards step” and bad for both racing and betting and said he would not have allowed the track to move from At The Races to RUK if he had been able to prevent the switch.

He made those comments despite holding a 13.5 per cent shareholding in SIS, which was integral to the move.

Done said: “I am a bit upset with SIS selling the rights from ATR to RUK. I don’t think they are doing the working man who is the bread and butter of betting shops any favours by putting it on pay TV.

“I don’t think they are doing the industry any good, either racing or betting. We’re scraping the barrel by selling all these rights.”

Done said he had been unaware of the plans to switch coverage and had no control over what happened to Chelmsford.

“If I would have had a vote in it as a shareholder in SIS I would not have voted for it going to RUK.” he said. “I would have kept it where it is.”

Meanwhile, the racecourse-led pool betting project which will challenge Done’s Tote operation from July this year is to be known as Britbet, it was announced last week.

Power off

The betting ring is set to lose one of its longest standing and most respected members after David Power, leading course bookmaker and co-founder of Paddy Power, announced he is to retire after next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

Power, 71, is the chairman of Richard Power Bookmakers, which have pitches at many of the major tracks in Ireland, including Leopardstown, the Curragh and Punchestown. It is understood the business’ pitches, that would occupy premium status, will be sold in coming months.

Power revealed plans to wind down the business after Cheltenham, with his son Willie expected to oversee the business.

He said: “The game has been very good to me and there have been so many highlights – too many to list! I’m 71 now and it felt like the right time to pack it in. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, have come across brilliant staff and we’ve had plenty of luck along the way, which is important.”

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