High street punters prove sluggish for William Hill

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William Hill has been hit by a slowdown in wagers at its UK betting shops, as punters increasingly choose to place their bets online and other companies complain of falling consumer confidence on the high street.

In a trading update for 17 weeks to 25 April, the FTSE 250 bookmaker said that total net revenues at its retail arm, which accounts for the majority of its revenues, had grown just 1 per cent – down from 2 per cent over the same period a year earlier.

But the company said that it has enjoyed a “positive start to 2017”, with 16 per cent revenue growth at its online division, which accounts for around a third of its business, and even stronger growth at its US and Australian divisions.

The company said it had benefited from “strong horseracing results” over the period. Other bookmakers have said they enjoyed big gains at Cheltenham, the annual horseracing festival that took place in March and featured a string of upsets that left punters out of pocket. But William Hill added that football results had led its gross win margins on the bets it has taken to be “lower than expected.”

In March, Philip Bowcock, previously the finance chief, was promoted to chief executive, ending a difficult nine month search in which the bookmaker had been rebuffed by several external candidate.

He said that this year’s trading so far was “in line with market expectations,” adding:

It has 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 have made. Retail is also seeing positive trends while our key international markets continue to perform well with double-digit wagering growth.

But William Hill’s weak growth at its retail division matches warnings from other leisure operators, including rival Ladbrokes Coral, and Costa Coffee owner Whitbread of a “challenging UK high-street environment.”

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