Online boost helps Hills to positive start
William Hill hailed a positive start to 2017 in a trading update last week, with net revenue in their online division surging by 16 per cent.
Hills said there had been growth in wagering and net revenue across all four of their divisions, with group net revenue rising by nine per cent.
The bookmaker’s online arm had been faltering, contributing to a series of profit warnings and the departure of new chief executive Philip Bowcock’s predecessor James Henderson last summer.
Hills reported favourable horseracing results online had contributed to a stronger gross win margin, but football was lower than expectations.
A new Android app and the rollout of a new-look desktop site had helped drive an 11 per cent increase in UK betting, while there had been a 24 per cent increase in new accounts opened across the Cheltenham and Aintree festivals.
However, the company also said it expected the reformed levy system introduced in April, which will now capture online betting on the sport for the first time, would cost it around £5 million by the end of the year.
Bowcock said: “It’s been a positive start to the year for William Hill across the board. Our online business continues to deliver growth thanks to the improvements in product, user experience and marketing we’ve made.”
Net revenue across Hills’s betting shop estate was up just one per cent, with sportsbook amounts wagered up two per cent, thanks to more horseracing fixtures.
However, that still compared favourably to the performance of high street rivals Ladbrokes Coral. Their trading update detailed net revenue in betting shops down two per cent and amounts staked over the counter down seven per cent.
Net revenue in Hills’s Australian arm increased by 41 per cent and in the US by 19 per cent.
Bowcock added: “Retail is also seeing positive trends, while our key international markets continue to perform well with double-digit wagering growth.
“Our transformation programme is progressing well and we’re on track to deliver £40m of annualised savings by the yearend. Overall, we’re in line with market expectations for 2017 at this early stage in the year.”
Labour pledge to reduce FOBT stakes
Labour’s leaked general election manifesto contained a promise to reduce gaming machine stakes to £2, a promise that drew an immediate rebuke from the Association of British Bookmakers.
The manifesto claimed “these highly addictive machines in bookmakers across the country have become a problem for many families and communities”.
It added: “They allow players to gamble away £100 every 20 seconds, encouraging people to chase their losses. Labour will also legislate to increase the delay between spins on these games in order to reduce the addictive nature of the games.”
High street bookmakers have claimed such a major cut in gaming-machine stakes would lead to the closure of thousands of betting shops with the loss of 20,000 jobs, as well as the horseracing and greyhound racing industries having their income cut by millions of pounds.
Responding to the manifesto promise, an ABB spokesman said: “This is a bizarre and unjustified attack on betting shops from the Labour Party, whose members are among the millions who enjoy their leisure time at their local bookies.
“Labour has fallen for the spin of our commercial rivals who have a vested interest in destroying Britain’s high street betting shops. There is no evidence to show cutting stakes on gaming machines will help tackle problem gambling.”
Profits up at Newbury
Newbury racecourse last week posted exceptional profits of £19.23 million for 2016, courtesy of the sale of the final tranche of land for development at the site to David Wilson Homes.
Underlying trading profit rose eight per cent to £0.74m, while trading business turnover was up four per cent to £16.91m, according to the course’s preliminary results for 2016 released yesterday.
That was despite the loss of three meetings at the start of the year due to bad weather.
Chairman Dominic Burke said: “We are pleased to be able to report a positive set of results for 2016 that reflect continued growth and progress, having seen improvements in trading performance across a number of areas of the business, with an eight per cent overall improvement in the underlying trading profits before exceptionals.”
Media revenues increased by around £300,000 (nine per cent) to £3.39m last year, representing 20 per cent of the group’s overall turnover and “reflecting the continued growth in streaming and overseas activities of Racecourse Media Group”, according to chief executive Julian Thick’s strategic report.
Green light for racecourse pool betting plan
The group behind plans for a pool betting operation run by Britain’s racecourses said last week it had commitments in place from more than 50 tracks.
Betfred’s seven-year exclusive licence to run pool betting in Britain runs out next year and the majority of tracks have come together to set up their own operation.
The 54 courses that have signed letters of intent to launch the new service include the 15 courses under the Jockey Club Racecourses banner and Arena Racing Company’s 16 tracks.
Of the large independent tracks, Goodwood, Newbury and York are on board as are all five Scottish courses – Ayr, Hamilton, Kelso, Perth and Musselburgh – and a number of smaller independent courses.
Neil Goulden, who is chairman of the partnership’s project steering board said: “For the first time we have got an official green light to form the partnership and move forward.”
The project steering board is also hopeful of signing up a further two unnamed courses to the partnership which would then cover 56 of Britain’s tracks.
However, the remaining four tracks will definitely not be involved. Ascot has decided to set up AscotBet, supported by the existing Betfred-owned Totepool system. Chester and Bangor are continuing with their own in-house operation, while Chelmsford is owned by Betfred founder Fred Done.
Goulden said: “The evolution of pool betting in Great Britain provides an important opportunity for British racing and it is enormously positive for the sport that the vast majority of racecourses are involved in this initiative.
“The focus is now on developing the infrastructure and brand for the service and we look forward to providing further updates throughout 2017 ahead of its launch in 2018.”
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