William Hill Announces Shop Closure Plans in Wake of FOBT Crackdown
William Hill Plc has become the first land-based bookmaker doing business in the United Kingdom to formally announce its plans to close betting shops in response to the UK’s betting-cap crackdown targeting the country’s widespread fixed-odds betting terminals, or FOBTs. William Hill plans to close approximately 700 shops, resulting in a loss of approximately 4,500 jobs.
William Hill is the first Brit betting company to formally announce its plans, though a wave of such closures has been predicted since the FOBT wagering cap was approved in 2018 and went into effect earlier this year. William itself said back in March that as many as 900 shops would be closed. Rival betting company Ladbrokes, now a part of GVC, is also widely expected to trim back its shop presence at some juncture.
As for the Hills, the company issued a brief statement acknowledging the pending closures:
Media Statement – Consultation on Shop Closures
William Hill has entered into a consultation process with retail colleagues over plans to close around 700 licensed betting offices. This follows the Government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 gaming products to £2 on 1 April 2019. Since then the company has seen a significant fall in gaming machine revenues, in line with the guidance given when the Government’s decision was announced in May 2018.
A large number of redundancies is anticipated with 4,500 colleagues at risk. The Group will look to apply voluntary redundancy and redeployment measures extensively and will be providing support to all colleagues throughout the process.
Subject to the outcome of the consultation process, shop closures are likely to begin before the end of the year.
While all these closures are likely to occur in the next six months, the company has yet to offer any list of the shops that are expected to get the axe.
Ladbrokes has also projected — but has yet to formalize — plans to close 900 or so shops, while somewhat smaller brand Betfred has projected up to 500 shop closures. Industry analysts and British mainstream media outlets continue to estimate an overall hit to the shop-based side of Great Britain’s industry at between 9,000 and 12,000 jobs. In percentage terms, perhaps on fourth of all brick-and-mortar shops may close, a testament to how important the FOBT revenue flow has been for these shops’ survival.
Former UK sports minister Tracey Crouch, who was one of the leading anti-FOBT members of Parliament, shed a few crocodile tears when informed of William Hills’ announcement. As he told the Guardian, itself a frequent fount of anti-gambling rhetoric:
“While I am sorry to hear of job losses, the truth is there was huge overinflation in the number of bookmakers on our high streets because of the profit-making capacity of FOBTs.
“The closures shouldn’t only be blamed on stake changes though – that would be too simplistic.
“There has been consolidation within the industry and a drive from the bookmakers themselves to less costly online gambling for some time now and mass closures were predicted in the industry-funded KPMG report, even without stake reductions.”
Crouch is indeed partly correct, at least as much in that many operators continue shifting operations more and more online. The FOBT crackdown has served to hasten that transition.