William Hill sees Australia growth after acquisitions

LONDON Fri Aug 2, 2013 7:33am BST

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LONDON (Reuters) - William Hill (WMH.L), Britain's largest bookmaker, said it saw strong potential from its move into Australia after reporting an 8 percent rise in first half group operating profit.

Building on its British roots, the company has expanded aggressively through acquisitions in recent months, spending almost 900 million pounds to take full control of its online operations and buy rival gambling company Sportingbet, giving it access to Australia.

"We are excited by the opportunity we see to develop William Hill Australia by improving our digital offer and targeting the recreational customer," Chief Executive Ralph Topping said.

"Taking control of online is giving us more freedom both to invest and to use that expertise across the group, including in Australia," he added in a statement on Friday.

Operating profit rose 8 percent to 181.4 million pounds in the 26 weeks to July 2, just ahead of consensus forecasts. Revenues were up by 20 percent to 751.6 million pounds.

A familiar name on the British high street where it has almost 2,400 betting shops, William Hill has also become a market leader in the growing online gambling sector and started to reduce its reliance on its domestic market.

Shares have risen by around 70 percent over the past year and a market capitalisation of over 4.2 billion pounds makes William Hill Europe's biggest gambling company.

Its expansion has propelled it into the FTSE 100 index of leading British companies, drawing in additional investors.

Ladbrokes (LAD.L), Britain's second largest bookmaker, has failed to keep pace with William Hill's advance, suffering a series of setbacks to its digital operations and seen potential acquisitions fail to come off.

Ladbrokes reports its first half results next Thursday.

(Writing by Keith Weir, editing by Neil Maidment)

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