They weren’t expecting it to be good and it wasn’t: with the latest financials from national bookkeeping chain William Hill detailing company-wide like-for-like revenues down by nearly a third (31 per cent) throughout the first half of 2020, with takings across its retail division plunging by over 61 per cent.
Small surprise that WillHill’s online business was the major earner for the company throughout an unprecedented trading period: with its remote platforms actually managing to achieve a slight gain (by 1 per cent) in digital revenue against last year’s benchmark, netting £369.3m. The increase came despite a substantial drop-off (13 per cent) in sports-betting, which was offset by a near equivocal (10.2 per cent) gain in online gaming takings.
As for the disastrous (if inevitable) posting on the retail front, WillHill had some mitigating factors up its sleeve to skew the numbers a little more in its favour. The company argued that once the 713 shops it had closed last September were taken out of the equation (as a result of the change in FOBT stakes), as well as an additional 119 shops which it chose to close permanently during lockdown, retail losses were actually reduced to a (still eye-watering) 48 per cent.
Nevertheless, in his accompanying statement, the company’s chief executive Ulrik Bengtsson still saw fit to pay tribute to the efforts of his colleagues and the wider business.
“I am delighted with William Hill’s performance in these extraordinary times,” he said. “Our team has been remarkable, supporting each other and our customers throughout the pandemic, and I would like to thank them for their continuing efforts.”
VAT REBATE TO THE RESCUE
Whilst core numbers at William Hill spoke a telling story of wider high-street collapse, one piece of good news for the betting giant – and the broader based industry still battling to reclaim its VAT monies from HMRC – was that it could finally count on a substantial government rebate (to the tune of £230m), which pertains to erroneously charged VAT on gaming income prior to 2013. Whilst the Treasury has long fought the payout, a court decision in May ruled against the government and in favour of the gambling trade. And the payout couldn’t have come at a better time: providing Will Hill with a significant enough boost to its bottom line that the company still managed to turn a significant profit in H1 2020, with total earnings coming in at £115m.