Belfast Telegraph

Bookie William Hill beats winter blues with sales rise

Heavy snowfall and freezing temperatures last month failed to stop gamblers placing their bets as William Hill posted robust sales growth in its shops.

The company, which has more than 2,350 outlets in the UK and Ireland, said retail turnover grew by 4% in December and 8% in the fourth quarter despite the adverse weather - which led to 47% of scheduled UK horseracing meetings being cancelled and just one weekend of reduced football.

However the bookmaker said group revenues growth in the three months to December 28 was driven by online gambling and use of gaming machines in its shops.

William Hill said it expects full-year earnings to come in at the top end of expectations - with pre-exceptional underlying earnings of around £275m, up from £258.6m the previous year.

Shares in William Hill surged more than 12% after the update, which forecast net revenues growth of 7% for the group in the year to December 28. William Hill online saw net revenues growth of 24% year-on-year driven by strong sports betting, as well as online gaming such as casino and bingo.

The company has also expanded its mobile offering, with betting applications available through its website.

The group added that turnover for in-play betting - placing bets as an event or match is in progress - more than doubled over the year, spurred on by television adverts promoting the service.

Chief executive Ralph Topping, said: "Overall, I'd class 2010 as a strong performance.

"We're at the top end of market expectations on operating profit, we've transformed our trading operation, we've become a market leader in in-play football as we promised, we're focusing on mobile over the next two years, and we've still got the best football and gaming offerings on the high street."

William Hill revealed plans last July to transfer its telephone business to Gibraltar in a move that affected its contribution to the Horseracing Betting Levy, which UK-based bookies have to pay in order to take bets on British races.

Looking ahead, Ivor Jones, an analyst at brokers Numis, commented: "William Hill is in good shape for a tough year with new gaming machines in the betting shops and an upgraded sportsbook offering online."