William Hill To Close Stores After Tax Hike
Betting group William Hill has blamed the Chancellor's tax increase on high-stake gambling machines for planned shop closures, as it reports a 14% fall in first quarter operating profit.
William Hill told Sky News that it would try to minimise redundancies among the 420 staff at risk of losing their jobs and it hoped to redeploy many of those affected.
The betting chain has 2,434 sites in the UK - 109 of its worst-performing outlets are to close.
Ralph Topping, chief executive of William Hill, said: "This is particularly disappointing as, through the economic downturn, we have worked hard to grow our retail base but this further planned increase in indirect taxation makes this action necessary".
George Osborne announced a hike in gaming duty in last month's Budget from 20% to 25% on machines that charge more than £5 to play.
Critics of problem gambling see fixed-odds terminals as particularly addictive, as they can accept wagers of up to £300 a minute.
And while they welcomed the Chancellor's move, the industry was furious.
William Hill said at the time that the increase in tax would cost it around £22m a year. Its rival Ladbrokes, which makes more than half its profits from the machines, has also warned it will close shops.
In January, the Labour Party lost a parliamentary vote calling for local authorities to be given powers to restrict the growth of the controversial, high-prize terminals.
The bookmaker said its results were additionally hit by big payouts over two weekends when popular football teams won their matches.
It hoped to recover profit later in the year with heavy betting on the World Cup in June and July.
The majority of City analysts have a "buy" rating on William Hill.
Numis Securities analyst Ivor Jones called it "a market leader which has seen a trough in trading in the first quarter of 2014".
Shares in the group were up 2.3% in morning trades, before they eased to 1.8%.