William Hill Limited
Bookmaking, betting shops, online gambling
The company was founded by William Hill in 1934. It changed hands many times, being acquired by Sears Holdings in 1971, then by Grand Metropolitan in 1988, then by Brent Walker in 1989. In September 1996, Brent Walker recouped £117m of the £685m it had paid for William Hill when Grand Metropolitan was found to have exaggerated the company’s profits at the time of the sale.
Japanese investment bank Nomura mounted a £700m leveraged buyout of William Hill in 1997. In February 1999, a proposed stock market flotation was abandoned due to “weak interest” and Nomura sold the company to funds managed by private equity firms Cinven and CVC Capital Partners for £825m instead.
The company was eventually listed on the London Stock Exchange in 2002. The following year Chief Executive David Harding was awarded a £2.84m bonus, making him the UK’s fifth highest-paid company director in 2003. It acquired Sunderland Greyhound Stadium in 2002 and Newcastle Greyhound Stadium in 2003. In June 2004, Chief Executive David Harding sold £5.2m of shares to fund his divorce, precipitating a decline in the company’s stock that wiped £75 million off the value of the company. In 2005, William Hill bought 624 betting offices in the UK, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, and Jersey from Stanley Leisure for £504 million: the acquisition briefly took the company past Ladbrokes into the first position in the UK betting market in terms of shops but not revenue. The Office of Fair Trading made William Hill sell 78 of the 624 Stanley shops due to concerns over anti-competitive practices.
In November 2008, William Hill went into partnership with Orbis (latterly OpenBet), an Israeli software company Playtech, to remedy its failing online operation. The same month, analysts at UBS noted “concern” at the company’s level of debt, which stood at over £1 billion and was later reported as £1.5 billion. In 2009, the company enacted both a rights issue and a corporate bond issue, to restructure its debt.
From 2001 until 2009, William Hill paid George Howarth, a Member of Parliament, £30,000 to act as a Parliamentary advisor. While on William Hill’s payroll he tabled amendments to the 2003 budget proposing tougher levels of taxation for person-to-person betting exchanges. Howarth left the role in the wake of the 2009 expenses scandal.
Under the terms of the deal, William Hill paid Playtech’s founder Teddy Sagi £144.5 million for various assets and affiliate companies. These included several online casino sites which William Hill continues to run under the name WHG. Playtech took a 29% stake in the new William Hill Online entity. The company wrote off a reported £26m when scrapping their previous in-house system. In June 2009 William Hill backed Playtech despite their partner having a quarter of its stock market value wiped out following a profits warning.
In 2013, William Hill paid £424 million ($643 million) for full control of its online business marking an accelerated expansion and resulting in the dissolution of the partnership with Playtech. In May 2015, William Hill presented the prototype of “Get In The Race” – a virtual horse racing application. On 2 August 2016, it acquired Grand Parade, the betting, and gaming digital solutions company for £13.6 million in cash and shares.
In 2018, William Hill was fined £6.2 million by the Gambling Commission for systematic failures regarding anti-money laundering and problem gambling. The operator was found to have accepted large deposits of cash linked to criminal activity between 2014 and 2016, resulting in £1.2 million in financial gains. William Hill was ordered to return the £1.2 million profit, plus pay a penalty of £5 million for breaching regulations.
On 7 January 2019, William Hill received regulatory approval to conclude its purchase of Mr. Green for £242 million. On 17 July 2020, William Hill raised £224 million in a new ordinary share rights issue to provide a timely capital boost during the COVID-19 pandemic. In August 2020, as a result of the economic effects caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the company announced that it would close 119 shops permanently. Despite that, only 16 employees would lose their job positions, while the others would be assigned to new positions. It also announced that the firm would be merging its retail and online operations.
On 30 September 2020, William Hill agreed to a £2.9 billion takeover bid by Caesars Entertainment, the Nevada-based casino operator. The deal was unanimously recommended by the UK company’s directors. It came after two rival bids by the US private equity group Apollo were turned down. In April 2021, Caesars completed its acquisition of William Hill. On 22 April 2021, William Hill was delisted from the London Stock Exchange.
On 9 September 2021, William Hill’s non-US assets were acquired by 888 Holdings from Caesars Entertainment for a purchase price of £2.2 billion.
A William Hill betting shop in Tottenham, London in 2020
William Hill employs approximately 12,000 people, 8,000 of them in the UK. The company operates 1,414 betting shops.
In addition to its online sportsbook operations, the company offers online casino games, skill games, online bingo, and online poker. Since the Gambling Act 2005, gaming machines have strengthened profits to counteract falling revenues in other areas. In 2009, the company moved its online betting operations to Gibraltar to reduce its taxes by millions of pounds.
In August 2010, William Hill launched a training program for its 10,000+ workforce to combat underage gambling in its retail outlets.
In 2019, William Hill became a founding member of the Betting and Gaming Council. In July 2019, William Hill announced it was closing 700 betting shops, saying this was because of the decision three months before to reduce the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals to £2. In August 2020, the company said it would close a further 119 shops that were not profitable during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the company returned £24.5 million in furlough funds it had received from the government.
Outside the United Kingdom
In March 2009, William Hill closed 14 of its shops in the Republic of Ireland with the loss of 53 jobs. In February 2010 it announced that the remaining 36 Irish shops were “under review” pending the possible introduction of controversial gaming machines to Irish shops. In 2011, William Hill sold its remaining betting shops in Ireland to BoyleSports because of what a William Hill employee described as “the restrictive nature” of the laws governing retail betting in Ireland.
William Hill had pulled out of Italy in 2008 after just two years, a failure which cost the company £1m in wasted investment. The company’s joint venture in Spain ended in January 2010 with partners Codere buying William Hill’s 50% stakeholding for €1, after both parties had invested an initial €10 million in April 2008. William Hill lost £11.6m in 2008 and £9.3m in 2009 on the venture.
In June 2012, William Hill expanded to Nevada, the only U.S. state to allow full-fledged sports wagering, buying three chains of sportsbooks: Lucky’s, Leroy’s, and the satellite operations of Club Cal Neva, for a total of $53 million. The deals at the time gave the company control of 55 percent of the state’s sportsbook locations, and 11 percent of statewide book revenue. All three chains were to be rebranded under the William Hill name.
In 2013, three Australian brands, Sportingbet, Centrebet, and Tom Waterhouse, were purchased by the company and later rebranded as William Hill Australia in 2015. Both Sportingbet and Centrebet were acquired in March of the year for $660m and $132m, respectively, while tomwaterhouse.com was brought in during August 2013, for an initial $34m. Tom Waterhouse was appointed Chief Executive Officer of William Hill Australia in July 2014.
In March 2018, William Hill sanctioned the sale of its Australian business to CrownBet holdings for an estimated value of AU $300 million. The sale ended the company’s time in Australia after entering the market in 2012. In preparation for Brexit, in June 2018, William Hill announced that it is opening a new satellite office in Malta.
Following the decision of the US Supreme Court regarding the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association in June 2018, the state of New Jersey effectively legalized gambling on athletic events due to a previously successful state ballot initiative. William Hill entered arrangements to provide bookmaking services to both Monmouth Park Racetrack and Ocean Resort Casino in the state of New Jersey.
On 3 August 2020, the bookmaker opened the first full-service betting operation housing professional sports teams in the U.S. at Capitol One Arena in Washington D.C.
In January 2021, A joint venture between William Hill and Argenbingo received a license to offer online gambling services in the Argentinean province of Buenos Aires. On 5 May 2021, William Hill launched in Colombia following the acquisition of a majority stake in Alfabet.