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William Hill set to surpass $1 billion in US sports gambling revenue

MarketWatch logo MarketWatch 8/9/2019 Lina Saigol

William Hill’s aggressive expansion into the U.S. could see its sportsbooks break through the $1 billion barrier across several states that recently legalized sports gambling, including New Jersey and Mississippi.

The British bookmaker has been growing quickly in the sports-obsessed U.S. market as it looks to soften the impact of a regulatory crackdown at home that is hitting revenues and forcing the closure of almost a third of its stores.

Now William Hill, which is scheduled to report its half-year results on Friday, is hoping it can generate around 45% of its revenues in the U.S. where it is positioning itself in time for the start of the new NFL season in September by opening dozens of new sportsbooks.

Joe Asher, the group’s U.S. chief executive said: “Sports betting is starting to grow rapidly across many parts of the U.S. and that’s going to continue. Nearly a dozen states will have sports betting by year end and the trend towards legalization is clear.”

William Hill has secured licences in eight of the 10 U.S. states that have legalized sports betting since the Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) in May 2018, and is close to entering the other two in Iowa and Indiana.

In the last six months of 2018, U.S. gamblers at William Hill wagered around $430 million across new states which opened up to sports gambling, indicating that the bookmaker has now passed the $1 billion barrier there, according to analyst estimates.

PASPA had barred state-authorized gambling on football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey. It made Nevada the only state where a person could bet on the results from a single game. Prior to the ruling, the American Gaming Association had estimated that up to $150 billion a year was being wagered illegally on sports in the US.

Around four months after the Supreme Court’s decision, U.S. casino operator Eldorado Resorts took a 20% stake in William Hill’s U.S. sports betting business, which in return was given exclusive rights to run sports books at all 26 Eldorado-owned properties.

Eldorado’s blockbuster $17.4 billion deal in June to take over Caesars Entertainment looks set to turbo-charge William Hill’s U.S. ambitions, giving it access to an additional five states to offer mobile betting in the renowned Caesars Palace hotel and casino in Las Vegas. The deal is due to close in 2020, subject to approval of shareholders and regulators.

The UK’s main listed bookmakers have all struck lucrative deals in the U.S. since the market opened up. PaddyPower Betfair owner Flutter Entertainment, for instance, took a majority stake in U.S. fantasy sports site FanDuel, while GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, signed a $200 million joint venture with MGM casinos.

William Hill, gained a first-mover advantage over its British rivals by establishing a U.S. outpost in Nevada in 2012 with a focus on retail and mobile operations. It has since grown to run 113 race and sports books in Nevada, where its sports book accounts for 32% of the market share of all bookmakers in the state. It also operates at Monmouth Park Racetrack in New Jersey, the north-east state that is home to casino hot-spot Atlantic City.

The group is also tapping into its experience of building a digital business in the U.K. to expand into mobile betting in the U.S. “We have a very deep management team, which combines talented executives with years of experience in Nevada, along with senior leaders from related industries who are new to the sports betting business post-PASPA.” Asher said.

He added: “We also benefit from long-standing relationships with our key business partners like Eldorado Resorts and when they grow, we grow.”

The U.S. operation is still loss-making as William Hill continues to reinvest any profits made into growing the business. It still has the flexibility to do a deal with a media company in the U.S.

The group suffered a 7% year-on-year fall in bets taken in its home market in the first quarter of 2019 after new UK government rules were introduced in April. These which slashed the maximum wager punters can make on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – betting machines such as those found in William Hill’s high-street shops - from £100 to £2.

In March, William Hill said the impact of the ruling meant it would have to close 700 of its 2,300 UK shops before the end of 2019.

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