William Hill to shut 109 loss-making outlets

Britain's largest bookmaker William Hill has announced a steep fall in its profits and cautioned that betting tax hike announced by the government could force it to shut more than 100 outlets.

William Hill suffered a year-on-year fall of 14 per cent in operating profit in the first quarter of this year. The fall in operating profit was mainly due to large payouts to gamblers on two weekends when a number of top football teams won their games.

To make the situation worse, Chancellor George Osborne announced a decision to hike tax on fixed-odds betting terminals from current 20 per cent to 25 per cent.

William Hill CEO Ralph Topping said tax hike on fixed-odds betting terminals would cost the company around £22 million per year, which in turn would force it close 109 loss-making outlets.

Announcing the decision, Mr. Topping said, "As a direct result of the government's unexpected announcement about an increase in machine games duty to 25 per cent, we have reviewed shop profitability and will be closing a portfolio of 109 shops this year."

The potential closure of the loss-making branches will put as many as 420 jobs at risk. Mr. Topping added that the decision of closing the outlets was particularly disappointing for them because the company had worked hard to grow our retail base through the economic downturn.

Around 40 per cent of all William Hill betting outlets are based in Scotland, with a workforce of 1790 people employed north of the Border.

Stock in William Hill gained 1.3 per cent or 4p to close at 337p per share on Friday, emerging as one of the biggest gainers of blue-chip companies on Britain's FTSE 100 index.