William Hill plc, the UK-listed online and land gambling group, has reported first half earnings down 10 percent, in line with market expectations. Profit prior to finance charges and exceptional items fell to GBP145.1 million (H.1 2007: $287.3 million) in the 26 weeks to July 1. Net profit reached GBP 79.7 million compared to GBP 104.8 million over the same period in 2007.
 
Pre-tax profit fell to GBP 111.1 million from GBP 134.2 million in the prior-year period, despite half-yearly revenues that grew to GBP 493.1 million from GBP 477.3 million in the corresponding period a year ago.
 
CEO Ralph Topping told Reuters news service that the company has registered an interest in buying parts of state-owned bookmaker, the Tote (see previous InfoPowa reports). Topping said the group had expressed its interest to Goldman Sachs, the U.S. investment bank appointed by the British government to examine options for the business.
 
"We met with Goldman Sachs to register an interest as part of the process. If they were going to break up the business to get the best price, we'd be looking for some ‘in-fill' outlets – in places where we aren't geographically represented at the moment," Topping said. Topping declined to say how many of the Tote's 540 shops William Hill would be interested in.
 
Competition laws would preclude William Hill from acquiring the business outright.
 
Reuters quotes Topping as saying that he believes the Will Hill business is more resilient now to a recession than it was in the early 1990s when bookmakers' profitability came under pressure.
 
"The business has significantly changed since the 1990s. We've got a wider geographical spread. Back then we were overweighted in London and the South East. Since then our development has been more focused on the provinces.
 
"We're in a stronger position and we've also diversified our product. Back then, we had a big dependency on two products – horseracing and greyhound racing and very little in the way of sports betting."