When Caesars Entertainment acquired the rights to the William Hill brand, they made one thing perfectly clear: they wanted nothing to do with the firm’s 1,400 UK betting shops.
And that sparked something of a discussion: would anybody buy up the Hills high street properties, or would another blow be struck to the offline betting sector?
Well, the good news for traditionalists and supporters of such things is that the William Hill shops have been saved by 888 Holdings, the group behind the 888sport brand. They’ve nipped in and paid Caesars £2.2 billion for the privilege, in what will be their first foray into bricks-and-mortar betting.
Caesars themselves had forked out £2.7 billion to take on the William Hill branding in America, but has now kicked all of its non-US products and platforms to the kerb. They will use Hills’ assets and key personnel as they look to take a bite out of the fast-growing sports betting sector in North America.
Now 888 have confirmed that they’ve beaten off stiff competition from Betfred and numerous private capital funds in the race for William Hill’s high street premises, and once the deal has been completed early in 2022 then you will see their orange and black branding in your local towns and cities.
Generally considered to be an online enterprise, 888 have made a surprising move onto the high street – and their chief executive, Itai Pazner, has confirmed he’s already received offers from interested parties to take the shops on.
“We did see interest in the retail [estate] from the outside, but we feel that the retail is an integral part of the William Hill asset. We’re planning to keep the retail stores and the great people they have in them.”
At one time, William Hill had more than 2,300 betting shops across the UK and Ireland, however that has been trimmed by more than 30% since the cut in the FOBT maximum stake from £100 to £2 left chiefs counting the cost.
With 888 keen to maximise their presence in sports betting, they have tried numerous times to scale upwards via mergers and acquisition – including a proposed takeover of Hills back in 2016, which never came to fruition.
But now they’ve finally got their deal over the line, and it will be interesting to see what they bring to the retail betting sector at a time of much upheaval.
Farewell to an Old Favourite
You can date William Hill back to 1934, when the man himself set up his first telephone betting service.
In the early 1960s, betting shops were legalised by the UK government, and William Hill were one of the first firms to offer legal wagering on the high street.
By 1973, William Hill had more than 14,000 shops in its armoury – a far cry from the slimmed-down real estate that 888 will be taking on. Naturally, the advent of online betting has taken more and more punters off the high street, and so 888 Holdings really are taking something of a gamble, pun intended, by banking on the Hills name.
The assumption is that William Hill will continue to serve their UK customers online, but a mainstay of town centres up and down the land will be no more once the ink has dried on their sale.