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WILL HILL REPORTS STRONG Q3-2012 GROWTH

Friday October 19, 2012 :  WILL HILL REPORTS STRONG Q3-2012 GROWTH
 
Management changes and a valuation exercise on WHO in motion
 
UK online and land gambling giant William Hill plc has posted its Q3-2012 update, highlighting strong growth and the following KPIs for the period ended September 25 2012:
 
• Group Operating profit was up 26 percent in the period, 17 percent higher in the year to date
• Online Operating profit was up 42 percent and Retail Operating profit was 8 percent higher in the period
• Group net revenue grew by 9 percent and was up 10 percent in the year to date
• Retail net revenue grew by 3 percent and was up 4 percent in the year to date
• Online net revenue grew by 18 percent and was 26 percent up in the year to date
 
Key operational highlights for the quarter
 
• Mobile delivered 27 percent of Sportsbook turnover and averaged GBP 10.7 million of weekly Sportsbook turnover in Q3
• Strong Retail over-the-counter (OTC) gross win margin, up by 1.9 percentage points
• William Hill US integration activities completed on schedule in September
 
Ralph Topping, Chief Executive, commented:
 
“We saw strong operating profit growth in the third quarter. Group net revenue remains well ahead of last year, with quarterly growth continuing broadly in line with that seen in the first half. Operating profit growth in the quarter further benefitted from favourable timing on Online marketing costs. The initial performance in the US is encouraging, with integration successfully completed and trading in line with expectations.
 
“The Olympics and Paralympics captured the public’s attention but appear to have reduced customer visits in Retail. However, there were compensating factors, particularly the strong margin growth across all channels. We’ve had a good performance in football, including a strong Euro 2012 in July. It’s also pleasing to see signs of improvement in horseracing margin trends.
 
“We look forward to another busy period ahead, including trialling a new machine cabinet in the estate in the last quarter. We have announced today a number of senior management appointments at William Hill Online, reshaping the management team to support the business’s continued development and to increase the focus on our customers.
 
“As we announced on 16 October, we are progressing a potential offer in relation to Sportingbet. We are also announcing today that we intend to commence the valuation process relating to the minority share in William Hill Online prior to making a decision on this by the end of the first quarter of 2013.
 
“The Board remains confident in its expectations for the full year and focused on the Group’s strategic opportunities to generate further value for shareholders.”
 
The group reduced its net debt liability by GBP 12 million to GBP 343 million during the reporting period, and spent GBP 26 million on the acquisition of three US sports betting businesses.
 
William Hill Online, the group's joint venture with Playtech, continued to perform strongly and delivered 18 percent growth in net revenue, with Online operating profit of GBP 34.8 million, 42 percent higher than the prior year. Playtech’s non-controlling interest was GBP 10.2 million.
 
The group announced senior management changes at WHO, designed to support its continued development
 
• Henry Birch is stepping down as Chief Executive Officer. Andrew Lee is appointed Managing Director with immediate effect, responsible for leading William Hill Online.
 
• Jamie Hart is appointed to the new role of Director of Customer Experience and Innovation with responsibility for the development of Sportsbook and Gaming platforms, and for innovation.
 
• Jürgen Reutter assumes the Head of Mobile role vacated by Andrew Lee, who had held it on an interim basis since April 2011. Jürgen brings valuable and extensive mobile-specific expertise.
 
"Having successfully grown the operational scale and product offering since 2008, the focus for William Hill Online is now intensifying around the customer, including personalisation, customer insight and customer services. This is a significant priority given the high proportion of UK betting and gaming customers who already have a William Hill account," said group CEO Ralph Topping.
 
Turning to group sportsbook operations, the update notes that Sportsbook turnover overall was up 27 percent, with in-play up 47 percent and pre-match up 14 percent. Sportsbook gross win margin was 7.8 percent (Q3 2011: 6.9 percent) and as a result, net revenue grew by 43 percent in the period. The Olympics and Paralympics profit contribution was not material.
 
Gaming net revenue was up 5 percent in Q3. Vegas Casino grew by 16 percent. Following the successful soft launch of the group's innovative Live Casino in April, marketing reinforced this with television advertising in September. To date, since the soft launch, net revenues from this product are up 33 percent.
 
Net revenue growth in Playtech Casino was softer, at 2 percent, and the September comparative was impacted by the rollover of high roller losses in 2011. Bingo net revenue was up 6 percent, but Poker plunged 24 percent.
 
Mobile Sportsbook turnover grew an impressive 331 percent and accounted for 27 percent of the total Sportsbook turnover in the period. Mobile gaming also saw substantial net revenue growth of 533 percent following the launch of mobile Casino and Bingo sites earlier this year.
 
Despite these impressive advances, Online operating costs were only 6 percent higher. Marketing costs in the period represented just 23 percent of William Hill Online’s total net revenue.
 
Retail net revenue grew 3 percent, primarily driven by a strong OTC gross win margin (Q3 2012: 18.5 percent versus Q3 2011: 16.6 percent). Operating costs were up 2 percent and Operating profit increased by 8 percent.
 
OTC net revenue increased by 5 percent and gaming machine net revenues grew 2 percent with August being the weakest month. Gross win per machine per week was GBP 888 (Q3 2011: GBP 890).
 
William Hill plc has opened 16 new betting shops in the year-to-date, bringing the total number of shops at the end of the reporting period to 2,379. The company has selected a partner for a wider rollout of self-service betting terminals (SSBTs) augmenting the SSBTs currently in place by adding 350 more before the year end, with the total number set to rise to 750-1,000 by October 2013.
 
The update explains that the German legal situation has made it necessary for William Hill Online to shut down online sportsbetting in the German market, despite the company's position that both the German Treaty and the new German sportsbetting laws are in conflict with EU principles.
 
"While the German regulatory and fiscal situation remains unclear, we will continue to monitor developments closely and continue to take gaming business, totalling circa GBP 6 million in annual operating profit," the statement notes.
 
"Following a decision by the Belgian government to include William Hill Online websites on a list of websites allegedly violating Belgian law, we have closed to business from this market, despite the actions of the Belgian government also being inconsistent with EU principles referred to above," the company points out, estimating that the adverse impact of these two closure decisions is around GBP 1-2 million in yearly operating profit.
 
Turning to the possibility that William Hill may buy out the Playtech interest in William Hill Online, the report advises investors that Will Hill has informed Playtech of its intention to carry out a valuation exercise "...ahead of the potential exercise of its option to acquire the minority stake in William Hill Online."
 
The valuation will commence in November and end in February 2013, after which William Hill has a short period to determine whether it will exercise its option at the value determined by the process.
 
The statement stresses that there can be no certainty that the option will be exercised. If not exercised, William Hill has a further option right in two years’ time.
 
"Playtech is a key software partner for William Hill Online and, on this basis, we look forward to continuing a long-term relationship with Playtech, regardless of the outcome of this valuation process," the statement notes.
 
William Hill's other major current project - the acquisition of Sportingbet plc in partnership with GVC plc - is also addressed in the report, advising that the parties had reached agreement on a price with the Sportingbet board
 
The proposal values each Sportingbet share at 61.1 pence per share, including the recently announced proposed final dividend of 1.1 pence per Sportingbet share, based on a closing middle-market GVC Holdings share price of 233.5 pence on 15 October 2012.
 
The Sportingbet board of directors has said that it will recommend such an offer to shareholders if it was made. In the meantime an extension of the stock exchange deadline has been granted, giving the partners until 5.00 p.m. on 13 November 2012 to make the offer.

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