Government regulation that reduced stakes on lucrative in-shop betting machines from £100 to £2 has meant that bookmaker William Hill has had to close 700 shops and saw a 33 per cent fall in operating profit in the first half to £76.2 million.
However, CEO Phillip Bowcock has said that the business is protecting itself from the adverse effects in the UK market by pursuing an aggressive international strategy, one that relies on new data platforms and proprietary technology stacks.
So this is the first year of our new strategy. We made it clear, it's a year of transition for all parts of the group and the results reflect that and are very much in line with our expectations. We're making good progress against the plan we set out in our Capital Markets Day last year and are rapidly moving towards a business that is more digital, more international and has a more sustainable future.
William Hill’s international pushed has focused on its 2018 acquisition of Me Green, a Stockholm-listed online gaming group that has remote gambling licences in Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Malta, as well as the UK and Ireland.
In addition, the bookmaker has been taking advantage of new legalised sports betting at the federal level in the US since May 2018, having launched with sportsbooks in eight of the states. It now claims to have a 27 percent market share. Bowcock said:
In the U.S., we're building a business with meaningful scale, handling $1 billion of amounts wagered in the first half alone.
Our market share was 27% in the first half. We're now live in eight states and we'll be launching in two more shortly. We're giving ourselves the best possible platform of serving all new states with the imminent launch of our new proprietary technology stack, the first solution designed and built for the very specific needs of this market.
It focuses on both incremental improvements in a number of areas and some heavy lifting projects to enhance our competitiveness for the long term and we're progressing on all of these.
Bowcock said that mobile is now 67% of William Hill’s business in the US and that when the new technology stack goes live, it will be the first that is designed specifically for the US. He added that the technology has been built based on the best-in-class systems from across the group and is designed to meet the “very specific, very complex needs of the US”. Bowcock said:
We need a solution that is cost-effective and quick to deploy in multiple states and able to cope with different often complex regulatory, partner and customer requirements state-by-state.
The new platform is in its final sign off stage by the DGE, the regulator in New Jersey and we're up and running in time for the beginning of this year's NFL season. This technology platform will give the team more tools for competing in New Jersey Digital in the second half of the year.
The strong progress we've made over the last year and the rapid progress in state legislation, means we're now in a good position to explore options for national media partnerships. This is about the right partner that gives us strong database and media integration.
Bowcock added that the acquisition of Mr Green has given the business an online international group based out of Malta, with approximately 350 people. The acquisition has also delivered £4 million of “annualized cost synergies” and that the business is on track for its £6 million target.
Improving UK digital products
However, despite William Hill’s international ambitions, Bowcock also highlighted how it is continuing to invest in improving the company’s digital products in the UK, with a focus on improving the customer experience, marketing and a new data platform. He said:
“e've improved our live casino product for example by enabling in-game quick deposits. We've improved the navigation in our gaming app and we've upgraded our live scores including live score push messaging for cricket and the addition of basketball. We've also enhanced our account recovery age verification and registration processes, and accelerated the release of the in-play offers, in app.
In terms of longer-term projects, we're further improving our marketing efficiency, with ROI up 10% in the period. And that's through new marketing technology. And that went live in the first half of this year, with a series of new marketing models, and enhanced analytics, thereby improving our marketing mix.
We're implementing, our new data platform, which will land at the end of the year, and support customer yield measures as we go into 2020. At the same time, we're staying focused on customer protection.