William Hill vows to develop ‘sustainable’ business

William Hill vows to develop ‘sustainable’ business

Friday, February 23, 2018 Posted by Luke Massey
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The operator has been fined £6.2 million for social responsibility failures

William Hill has told shareholders that it is improving its approach to responsible gambling in an effort to build a more sustainable business, and wants the rest of the industry to take a similar approach.

Last year, the company strengthened its problem gambling safeguards by developing its Multi-Operator Self-Exclusion Scheme to enable customers to self-exclude from multiple betting shops across different operators at any given time. It has also enhanced its player behaviour algorithm to improve tracking and prevention of problem gambling both in shops and online.

However, the bookmaker will put even more focus on this approach in the future. CEO Philip Bowcock explained: “A key pillar of our strategy moving forward will be to act in a sustainable way. While it is imperative that the gambling sector as a whole embraces this, there is no doubt that leading brands like William Hill must play a key role in setting the right standards and taking greater account of all our stakeholders.

“In the months ahead we will be taking a number of steps as a matter of urgency to ensure that we embed this approach in our business for the long term.”

Such a strong focus is perhaps understandable in a week that has seen William Hill as one of the UK’s blue chip bookmakers fined £6.2m by the Gambling Commission for breaching anti-money-laundering and social responsibility regulations.

In its annual results, the firm explained: “We are focused on improving our approach to responsible gambling to build a long-term, sustainable business for all our stakeholders, and especially for any of our customers who are at risk from problem gambling.

“We recognise that it is not enough to grow: we have to grow the right way. That means acting in a sustainable way that takes account of all our stakeholders. We remain a company with commercial objectives but commercial gain should not come at the expense of being a responsible company. We are committed to treating customers fairly and openly, to protecting the vulnerable and to keeping crime out of gambling.”

After the regulatory settlement with the Gambling Commission, William Hill also announced it is introducing ‘new and improved policies and increased levels of resourcing’ to improve its ability to ensure full regulatory compliance, committing to an independent process review.

It added: “We are fully committed to operating a sustainable business that properly identifies risk and better protects customers and we will continue to assist the Commission and work with other operators to improve practices in this area.

“We can and will do more to embed sustainability for the long term. In the months ahead we will be taking a number of important steps in key areas, including improving the transparency of our marketing and communications, increasing responsible gambling measures and enhancing our stakeholder engagement. We will update on these measures in due course.”

Group net revenue grew 7% to £1,711.1m, with ‘adjusted’ operating profit up 11% to £291.3m. However William Hill’s decision to take a £238m impairment charge on the value of its Australian business actually saw the operator report a pre-tax loss of £75m for 2017.

Despite this, the company is upbeat that the underlying performance is positive, especially after a Q4 which saw sports betting margins increase significantly thanks to unexpected football results.

Bowcock added: “William Hill begins 2018 in a stronger position after a year of significant change for the business. We continue to gain ground in the UK where customers are responding to our improved Online and omni-channel offers. We are a leader in sports betting in the US and are well positioned to benefit should more states start to regulate if the pending Supreme Court decision is positive.

"Looking ahead, we will invest in more innovation in Online and our omni-channel platform, as well as in the US to ensure we can unlock its full potential at the right moment.”

Totally Gaming says: It’s easy to be cynical about William Hill’s push for a ‘sustainable’ business through an increase in social responsibility measures, especially given the proximity of the Gambling Commission fine earlier in the week. However, wind the clock back five years and there would be little mention of responsible gambling in annual reports, let alone it being a key tenet of a firm’s growth strategy. It will be interesting to see how much priority Philip Bowcock will be putting on the subject at the firm’s interims in six months' time.

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