By Tim Poole
Following William Hill's FY 2019 trading update, where it reported a 2% year-on-year fall in group revenue to £1.58bn ($2.05bn), Gambling Insider caught up with CEO Ulrik Bengtsson.
The first thing that struck me about William Hill’s results was the contrast between UK and international. You said almost a quarter of revenue is now generated outside the UK compared to 15% for 2018. Ideally, what percentage would you aim to get this to within the next few quarters?
In our online business, it’s actually 35%. We haven’t set a specific number but we do have a very clear ambition of growing and continuing to diversify.
In the long term, can you see that being a 50-50 split or is it too early to say?
It’s not unreasonable, with the pace of US growth. We added $1bn in wagering in the US last year. With the way the business is developing, and if we can get our international business to work, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable number.
You mentioned a 24% nationwide market share in the US and one in every four US sports wagers being taken through William Hill. But considering the performance of DraftKings and FanDuel, do you have any specific plans to grow considering that competition?
Well I think no one can match 24% across the US. Obviously, that varies in various states but I don’t think anyone can match 24% nationwide.
Regulatory headwinds have affected 2019’s results and you’ve stated the credit card ban will reduce deposits by a small percentage as well. Are any preparations in place, or are there any concerns for the future, regarding a potential online stake limit in the UK?
I think our industry has always had and will always have regulatory challenges. So there’s nothing really new in that context. More specifically, I think we have done a huge amount of work in the last 1-2 years when it comes to protecting customers, whether it’s age verification, source of funds, customer due diligence and the responsible gambling algorithms we have put in place; the consequence of that is proactively reaching out to customers that we do think need help.
All these things are something you cannot do in a retail environment; you can only do this online. That changes the basis for this conversation. When I was at the House of Lords a couple of weeks ago, my feeling was that there is a real interest in a sensible and evidence-based review of the Gambling Act. These are the sort of considerations that come into that.
With this being an out-of-the-ordinary year for retail, and considering William Hill’s restructuring, what kind of results are you projecting for retail in 2020?
I think Ruth [Prior, CFO] has given a number of between £60-70m in EBIT, which is a slight upgrade from the £50-70m we gave before.
So does that suggest encouragement at these results compared to what could have happened after the fixed-odds betting terminal restrictions?
Make no mistake, the £2 stake limit wiped roughly £70m of EBIT from our retail and gaming business, a decline of 30%. In that sense, it’s been a very painful and big project for the group. But we executed it very well and, in the end, we came out a little bit better than we thought at the end of the year.
You mentioned an investment in proprietary technology; would this lead you to any more M & A like the Mr Green acquisition? Obviously DraftKings’ acquisition of SBTech is notable in the US.
We are really focused right now on the operational performance of William Hill; customer team and execution and the competitiveness of our offering. That’s all that is important right now, including the components we have in place to build the US business and how to execute on those in the best possible way.
Would that make M & A less of a current focus for William Hill, in that case?
We always look at things on merit but our focus right now is to operationally perform within the group.
Finally, after a few months in your role as CEO, how confident are you now of leaving your own individual mark on William Hill’s direction and future performance?
I’ve been with the company for two years so I had some time to prepare myself, if you will. I feel I have a clear view on where we need to go and where we need to improve. We’re in a very good position, with a good team and having made some important appointments. But we also do recognise there are challenges and a lot more work to be done, so we’re not resting on our laurels. I think I have a pretty clear picture of where we need to go.