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William Hill US moves to break even in 2019 after strong Q4 growth

In a trading update to investors, William Hill, parent of William Hill US, has cited strong progress towards break even status in the American sports betting sector, with expected adjusted profits for 2019 of between $185.6m and $192m for the whole group.

The US business, said the firm, continued to generate strong growth during the fourth quarter, driven by wagering growth and disciplined investment. “We now expect to be break even for the US business overall in 2019, compared to the guided range of $0m to -$20m,” it noted.

During the year the group said it had made good progress towards delivering its long term ambition to become a digitally led and internationally diversified business of scale while continuing to embed a culture of responsible gambling.

Ulrik Bengtsson, CEO, commented: “The group has delivered a strong operating performance, ahead of our expectations and against a challenging regulatory backdrop. We made good progress on a number of fronts, including our retail business, online and in the US, enabling us to deliver on our long term strategic ambitions. We look forward to building on these efforts in 2020 with a strong focus on customer, team and execution.”

During 2019, William Hill US made a string of high profile announcements, including becoming the first arena sportsbook operator in a deal with Monumental Sports & Entertainment. The firm also became an official NBA partner and struck its first tribal sports betting agreement in New Mexico with the Mescalero Apache Tribe.

The group’s 2019 final results will be announced on February 26, 2020.
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William Hill to reshuffle leadership after O’Brien and Whitlam step down

William Hill continues to see a number of changes to its senior management after Ciaran O’Brien (Director of Corporate Communications), and Dan Whitlam (Head of Safer Gambling) confirmed that they will be stepping down from the company.

O’Brien, spent five years at William Hill whereby he played a key role in establishing the operator’s responsible gambling strategy while also being pivotal stakeholder in establishing the Betting and Gaming Council.

Meanwhile, Safer Gambling lead Dan Whitlam steps down from the operator after holding his position since February 2019. During his time at William Hill, Whitlam supervised the implementation of the operator’s responsible gambling strategy across its UK retail estate, which included driving William Hill’s product and marketing offerings in a move to promote responsible gambling measures.

Strengthening the operator’s compliance efforts, Lottoland’s former general counsel and group company secretary Lloyd Lemmon has joined William Hill as the new director of legal and compliance for its UK online division. Starting his new role at the beginning of the month, Lemmon will serve the company from its Gibraltar office.

Earlier this month, Chief Financial Officer Ruth Prior confirmed that she will also be stepping down as CFO and as a Director of the Company where she will return to the private equity sector, joining Element Materials Technology as its new CFO.

Prior has been praised for her role in developing and delivering the strategy of the Company and driving several transformation initiatives, as well as having responsibility for Group Assurance and Procurement functions.
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William Hill advances US agenda with imminent CBS Sports deal

FTSE250 bookmaker William Hill Plc is reported to be in the ‘final stages’ of announcing a forthcoming landmark US partnership with national broadcaster CBS Sports.

This weekend, The Sunday Times reported that William Hill governance would imminently announce its tie-up with CBS Sports – the sports entertainment division of the newly formed ViacomCBS global media conglomerate.

The partnership will see William Hill secure a much-coveted media arrangement with a leading US sports broadcaster, replicating the competitor movements of the Stars Group Inc and GVC Holdings partnering with FOX and Yahoo Sports respectively.

Maintaining coverage across a reported 61 million US households, the CBS Sports network currently holds the exclusive rights to broadcast live NFL Sunday programming of AFC divisional games.

Further high coverage contracts see CBS Sports act as the lead national broadcaster of the NCAA Championships, covering US sports programming for college football, basketball, baseball soccer and athletics.

Following 2019’s $30 billion merger between Viacom and CBS, US media observers anticipate CBS Sports to aggressively expand its content portfolio, going head-to-head against Disney-owned market leader ESPN.

Specifics of the deal have not been revealed, as it is unknown whether William Hill will develop a unique sportsbook property for CBS Sports to replicate the Stars Group agreement with FOX Sports, which saw the launch of FOX BET across regulated market states last year.

Operating Nevada sportsbooks since 2012, William Hill currently maintains the biggest US wagering footprint servicing betting venues across nine regulated US states.

2020 sees William Hill enter the third year of its corporate recovery programme, implemented by former Chief Executive Philip Bowcock in 2018 to remodel the UK legacy bookmaker as a global betting business.

The FTSE firm’s recovery strategy has been maintained by new leader Ulrik Bengsston, who replaced Bowcock last September as Group CEO tasked with accelerating William Hill’s digital growth, as well as developing a fast scale US business and remodelling the firm’s UK retail network.
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William Hill and Scientific Games announce four-year extension

William Hill and Scientific Games have announced a four-year extension to its existing sportsbook platform partnership, building on a long-standing relationship that first began in 2007.

A statement released by Scientific Games this morning confirmed that William Hill will continue to utilise its sportsbook platform – including betting engine OpenBet – and casino content through Open Gaming System (OGS).

As lead sportsbook platform, Scientific Games’ ‘OpenSports’ will allow the legacy sportsbook to operate with more speed and flexibility, including the option to deploy proprietary products across multiple jurisdictions in Europe.

Jordan Levin, Group Chief Executive, Digital for Scientific Games, stated: “By choosing Scientific Games, William Hill is reaffirming their commitment and belief in our products, services and team and sending a message that we continue to be a source of competitive advantage for global industry leaders in all regulated markets.

“We’re really building on one of our strongest relationships. The team at William Hill share an ambition to create next level player experiences and together, across sports and iGaming, we’re making that a reality.”

Ulrik Bengtsson, William Hill’s Group CEO, commented: “It’s a pivotal time for sports betting and iGaming providers.

“Scientific Games’ solutions provide us with the flexibility that is key to our growth strategy in the U.K. and Europe and we’re pleased to continue to use their products that will be provided on a flexible and modular basis to power our shared success in the years to come.”

William Hill has continued to develop its brand in 2020 following the announcement that the bookmaker confirmed an exclusive arrangement with CBS Sports.
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Betfred purchases 3% share in William Hill

Taking advantage of its growing market share across the US, Betfred owner Fred Done has acquired a 3.03% share in rival bookmaker William Hill.

The move comes after Betfred has continued to expand across the post-PASPA market, having recently launched sportsbooks in both Colorado and Iowa, as well as securing an agreement with Scientific Games to go live in Pennsylvania.

Betfred was also named as an official sponsor of the fight between Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury on 22 February, whereby the independent bookmaker saw its branding feature prominently in the ring.

Done, who did not reveal whether he had plans to increase his stake in William Hill, told the Racing Post: “I’ve bought Hills shares because they are massively undervalued and in my opinion when it comes to the US they are front-runners.”

Following the announcement, shares in William Hill climbed one point, rising 4.55p above their closing price on Friday before dropping by approximately 3% to 129.45p on Monday afternoon.

During 2019, William Hill US handled $2.9bn of gross amounts wagered, either directly or indirectly, 55% of which was placed through online channels.

As confirmed in its full-year 2019 results, the operator revealed that it has handled one in four bets across the US, having gone live in 9 of the fourteen states which have legalised sports betting.
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William Hill names new CFO and COO

William Hill has strengthened its senior leadership team after confirming the appointment of Matt Ashley as the new Chief Financial Officer (CFO) designate, and Stephen Parry as inbound Chief Operating Officer (COO).

Ashley is due to join the company and be appointed as an Executive Director to the William Hill Board on 6 April 2020, and will take over from Ruth Prior who will step down on 15 May 2020.

Prior to joining William Hill, Ashley gained FTSE 250 CFO experience at National Express before leading their North America business as President and CEO. Most recently, he held the position of Group Business Development Director.

He has also held the position of Director of transport, infrastructure and listed companies at Deloitte LLP.

The appointment of Ashley sees William Hill fulfil its executive search for a new CFO, following Adrian Marsh’s u-turn on joining the FTSE250 betting group last month.

Designate COO Parry is set to join William Hill later this year, moving from competitor Flutter Entertainment where he served as Integration Director, leading tech synergies and transformation projects attached to the approved Flutter/Stars merger transaction.

CEO Ulrik Bengtsson said: ‘These two key appointments reinforce our focus on building a high calibre team. Matt and Stephen bring significant strengths to the Company. Matt has a wealth of international financial and US experience as well as being an experienced CFO of a FTSE 250 Listed company.

“Stephen comes with a first-class track record of driving digital change, operational focus and customer experience in senior roles at Vodafone and Flutter. I look forward to welcoming them both to William Hill.’
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William Hill upgrades racing offering with BetMakers deal extension

Global Betting Services, a wholly-owned subsidiary of BetMakers Technology Group, has confirmed that it has ‘extended and upgraded’ its current commercial agreement with William Hill.

Under the new agreement, BetMakers will become the ‘preferred distribution partner’ for William Hill and has agreed to continue supplying its wagering technology services.

The wagering services provider has also agreed to offer William Hill access to its pricing and trading solutions, alongside additional access to its expanded racing products until 31 December 2022.

Commenting on the agreement, William Hill Director of Racing Mark Howarth said: “Over the past two years we have made enormous strides in diversifying our racing content to include products from all over the globe, which was one of our key strategic ambitions.

“This success could not have happened without the excellent collaboration of William Hill Group Trading and BetMakers, who offer an incredible wealth of experience in international racing. This transition has seen William Hill increase its racing content significantly.”

BetMakers Technology Group CEO Todd Buckingham added: “This is a significant and positive endorsement of the BetMakers business and we are delighted to be working with the William Hill Group, which as one of the world’s largest sports betting and gaming companies has been one of BetMakers’ foundation clients outside of Australia.

“The extension and upgrading of BetMakers’ racing services and solutions to William Hill at an international level comes during a challenging time for wagering operators with the suspension of many sports globally.

“BetMakers is buoyed by the support of our international and Australian customers as demand remains strong for racing products and services, which has seen our teams working overtime to continue to deliver racing from around the world to our extensive customer base.”
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Nick Luck joins William Hill racing roster

William Hill has strengthened its racing expertise with the addition of Nick Luck who will become the bookmaker’s new flat racing expert.

The seven-time HWPA Broadcaster of the Year joins William Hill’s stable of racing experts which includes Rebecca Curtis, Sir AP McCoy and the Twiston-Davies’, Nigel and Sam.

Commenting on his new role, Luck said: “I am delighted to join the William Hill team. William Hill has a strong association with horse racing on both sides of the Atlantic, and so I am looking forward to working with a brand that shares my love for the sport of kings.”

As part of the job, Luck will provide key insights and tips on both UK and US racing, with his content due to be shown across the William Hill website and the operator’s Twitter page.

Liam McKee, Head of Sponsorship at William Hill, added: “We have seen a keen interest in US racing during the lockdown, and we believe our customers will continue to enjoy it even when racing returns to the UK. Nick’s racing knowledge covers both sides of the pond, and we hope our customers find some luck when backing his selections.”

The news comes as the UK racing industry is ramping up preparations for an early June resumption, ensuring that its measures are in line with the UK Government’s guidance.
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William Hill fundraising for US market ambitions

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Bookmaker William Hill is raising funds with a new ordinary share placement for 19.99% of its existing share capital as it looks to capitalise on its position in the US sports betting market.

In a largely positive trading update, the firm said US sports staking benefited significantly from the availability of alternative sports and the resumption of UFC and NASCAR in May.

Although many casinos remained closed, William Hill operated drive-through sportsbooks in Nevada, a state where customers must sign up in person to use the William Hill app. It said this initiative proved popular and generated ‘considerable re-engagement’ online.

The company also revealed that it remains on track to launch online gaming in New Jersey upon receipt of regulatory approval.

CEO Ulrik Bengtsson was upbeat about the company’s performance over the past six weeks: “The return of sporting events has driven a strong recovery in our online volumes. Our UK Online business is in a better place than ever and our international business is displaying solid growth.

“In the US we have used this period of lockdown wisely to move our product forward and we are now in a strong position to capitalise on the US growth opportunity that lies ahead.”

Building on that positive drive, the firm has activated an ‘accelerated bookbuild’ to raise working capital for ‘its long-term growth ambitions, to strengthen its balance sheet and increase its strategic and financial flexibility.’ The global operator stated that funds will help accelerate its ‘digital momentum’ amid an expected drop in its retail footprint.

William Hill said that the US represents a large and profitable market opportunity, with an estimated market size of c.$7.5bn by 2025, and the firm has already achieved material scale with a 24% national market share, over half of which is digital.

It added: “Through the Eldorado and CBS commercial tie ups we have secured our position as a major operator as the market continues to open. We look forward to the completion of the acquisition of Caesars by Eldorado and preparations are well underway to bring the operation of the existing Caesars sports books into the William Hill network.”

William Hill underlined the fact that it has been operating in the US for nine years and has a strong management team with a deep understanding of the opportunity and evolving regulatory landscape. “We also have significant experience in running our own sports trading platform, giving us strong understanding of customer behaviour, acquisition costs and margins. Our history in Nevada of 24% CAGR over the last eight years with an operating margin of more than 30% in 2019 is testament to our expertise.

“We expect the number of states licencing sports betting in the US to increase over the next 12-18 months. We will continue to build on our national leadership position with the further roll out of our new proprietary platform, in which we continued investment during this time, and which now offers a compelling user experience with efficient adaptation to the unique requirements of each new state, enabling faster and lower cost market entry. These enhanced technology solutions will provide the US business with the strongest foundations for continued success.

“To do this, we will increase investment behind product, technology, new state start-ups and marketing. This is a crucial and exciting phase for us in the US, and the proceeds from the Placing will give us the flexibility to support and accelerate our roll-out strategy as opportunities emerge.”

For the new placing, William Hill has appointed Barclays Plc and Citigroup to act as joint-bookrunners facilitating the transaction for institutional investors, which the company aims to execute on Friday 19 June 2020.

Backing the directive, William Hill said that its executive team members will subscribe to the new share placement at its ‘placing price’ of 10p each per capital share of the company, contributing approximately ‘£200,000 in aggregate’.

The corporate filing also confirmed that William Hill will open its bookbuild to retail investors, who will be allowed to participate in the transaction through the LSE PrimaryBid platform.
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William Hill appoints Nedda Kaltcheva as international Tech lead

William Hill Plc has confirmed the executive appointment of Nedda Kaltcheva as Chief Product and Technology Officer for the firm’s international business units.

Kaltcheva, a former engineering lead for Stars Group Inc (2018-2019), joins William Hill’s Malta division from Palo Alto industrial logistics solution provider Manna, where she formerly served as European CTO.

In her executive remit, Kaltcheva will lead product development, IT support and technology units for William Hill’s international assets.

In 2018, William Hill significantly increased its presence in Malta following its £250 million acquisition of Mr Green. The firm’s Malta division was expanded to support all international projects.

William Hill has confirmed that Kaltcheva will directly report to Group Chief Product and Technical Officer Satty Bhens, who commented on the appointment:

“I am very glad to welcome Nedda to the William Hill International team in Malta. With this new position closely connected to our international operation, we look to further strengthen our product and tech capabilities and our focus on responsible gaming across our International, UK and US business areas.”
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Retail and online to merge for William Hill in latest shake-up

William Hill has revealed that its UK online and retail divisions are due to merge in a move which will see the operator fast-track its recovery in 2021.

Reported by the Racing Post, the firm’s UK online managing director Phil Walker will take responsibility for the single UK market division, while retail division director Nicola Frampton will step down. Both Frampton and Walker are due to work alongside one another for the six month transition period.

Frampton said: “It has been an absolute privilege to lead the retail team at William Hill. Our shops play a vital role in our success and I look forward to working with Phil on a handover plan in the coming months.”

William Hill CEO Ulrik Bengtsson added: “We will be immensely sad to say goodbye to Nicola Frampton when the time comes. Nicola has been with William Hill for ten years and has been a driving force on the executive team as well as being instrumental in reshaping and transforming our retail business.”

To aid recovery in 2021, William Hill is reportedly planning to capitalise on a packed sporting schedule, which will likely include the rescheduled Uefa European Championship.

The merger is the latest strategy rolled out by the bookmaker to mitigate regulatory and economic challenges, with last year’s FOBT ruling resulting in the closure of 713 betting shops.

William Hill also revealed that it had already begun simplifying its operating structures with the phased closure of its Gametek office in Stockholm.

Backing its recovery strategy, this June William Hill completed a £225 million book-build with private investors, raising working capital for its future directives.

In its investor notes, William Hill underlined that its US joint-venture partnerships and accelerated digital momentum would sustain corporate growth, as the company forecasted ‘an expected drop in its retail footprint’.
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William Hill matches finance sector screening capacity with Accuity

William Hill Plc has strengthened all components related to compliance and customer KYC operations by forming a comprehensive agreement with digital control risk solutions provider Accuity.

Facing changing compliance and regulatory demands across all core markets, the FTSE betting group has appointed Accuity to ‘transform its customer screening approach with AI techniques’.

The partnership sees William Hill install Accuity’s proprietary ‘Firco Insight’ platform as its lead KYC screening component.

Updating stakeholders, William Hill detailed that its compliance and CS teams will be supported by a greater depth of tools and AI software, allowing the bookmaker to better evaluate customer behaviours and prioritise risks.

Steven Armstrong, Group Director of AML at William Hill, said: “William Hill is always proactively looking for new ways to increase efficiency and enhance the experience of our customers.

“Following a successful proof of concept, we could see that working with Accuity and investing in this technology would help us achieve greater financial crime screening accuracy, without adding to our manual workload.”

Further operational benefits provided by Accuity will see William Hill reduce ‘false positives’ on customer screening from a ‘typical industry rate of 10-15% to less than 1%’, with the Firco Insight platform providing greater accuracy on customer name matching, risk assessment and prioritising alerts.

Accuity developed its Firco Insight platform for high-risk / high volume financial services institutions for clients including Citadele, Deutsche Bank, Sterling Bancorp, Banco Postal and UNESCO.

The partnership sees William Hill become the first gambling firm to uphold the same standard of financial crime screening as global banks.

David Wilson, CEO at Accuity, said: “We are very proud of this project that marks a significant milestone for William Hill, Accuity, and the gaming industry.

“By utilising entity resolution filtering and AI techniques to form an explainable, safe and high-performance screening program, William Hill will achieve the same exceptionally high standards as the world’s largest banks. We look forward to working closely with the team at William Hill to deliver a new benchmark in customer screening for the gaming industry.”
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William Hill makes sportsbook history with Capital One Arena launch

William Hill US has achieved a notable debut this week, opening its first-ever sportsbook location in Washington DC and the first-ever within a US sports complex – the Capital One Arena. The ceremonial opening bets were placed by inaugural season ticket holders from the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics.

The temporary sports book is located inside the Capital One Arena Box Office at 601 F Street, NW. Monumental Sports & Entertainment (MSE), led by Founder, Chairman, Principal Partner and CEO, Ted Leonsis, is the parent company of the Washington Capitals, Wizards, Mystics and Capital One Arena.

The timing of the launch dovetails neatly with the return of professional sports following the hiatus all leagues imposed in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Joe Asher, CEO of William Hill US, stated: “Washington DC is known for its dedicated sports fans, and we’re excited to finally bring them a new way to engage with their favorite teams. Being the first to open a retail location in a professional sports venue wouldn’t be possible without our relationship with Ted Leonsis and his team at Monumental.

“Our teams are working hard to finalize the permanent sports book, restaurant and bar concept we originally envisioned inside the arena.”

Jim Van Stone, President of Business Operations and Chief Commercial Officer MSE, welcomed the opening and the participation of the inaugural season ticket holders. He said: “We are so pleased to mark this day with three of the most dedicated team fans who propel our players towards excellence on the court or on the ice and for whom Monumental Sports & Entertainment continually innovates.

“And we couldn’t be more excited to couple this new dimension of a sports experience with the return to play across all of our leagues. William Hill has been a terrific partner with a reputation for excellence in service and maintaining the highest level of integrity in their process, and we look forward to welcoming many familiar and new visitors to the arena to check it out.”

Inside the arena’s box office, visitors will find seven ticket windows and 10 kiosks and a seamless experience for placing bets. The facility will be open seven days a week, from 11 am to 11 pm.

Design and construction on the permanent William Hill Sports Book are underway, and it is expected to open in the fall of 2020, pending regulatory approval. The sports book will have full-service food and beverage offerings, complemented by premium sports betting facilities from William Hill, the exclusive sports betting partner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics and Monumental Sports & Entertainment.
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