Belfast Telegraph

Eleven Northern Ireland shops face axe as William Hill reveals 700 closures

Support: Tom Blenkinsop
Support: Tom Blenkinsop

By Holly Williams

One-third of William Hill's 33 Northern Ireland outlets are at risk of closure after the bookmaker announced plans to shut a total of 700 betting shops around the UK.

The group warned a "large number of redundancies" are expected and it has started consultation meetings with the 4,500 affected staff.

The bookmaker employs around 200 people in Northern Ireland.

Shop closures are due to start by the end of the year.

William Hill blamed the closures on the government's decision to slash the maximum stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) to £2 in April, which has hammered bookmakers' sales.

On its shop closure plans, the group said: "This follows the government's decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 gaming products to £2 on April 1, 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."

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The industry's trade union blasted the closures as "devastating news" for workers and called on the government to offer support.

The closures will see William Hill's 2,282 shop estate shrink by close to one-third - which could mean the closure of around 11 of its 33 shops here.

It said it was too early to confirm which shops will shut until consultations are complete.

William Hill - which has 16,000 employees across the group - said it would look to offer voluntary redundancy and redeploy affected staff "extensively" where possible, "providing support to all colleagues throughout the process".

William Hill had previously warned that it could be forced to axe up to 900 shops as a result of the FOBT crackdown and challenging condition on the high street.

Tom Blenkinsop of the Community union said: "This is devastating news for thousands of betting shop workers.

"The government also has a role to play and must look at what support they can offer to workers whose jobs are threatened as a consequence of changes to the law around FOBTs.

"Workers don't deserve to be the victims of the changes happening in the industry as a result of either government policy or the significant shift towards online gambling."

GVC, the owner of the Ladbrokes Coral Group, previously said up to 1,000 of its bookies were at risk of closure.

Belfast Telegraph