WILLIAM Hill says it may have to close up to 900 stores over the next two years, in a move that could affect 4,500 jobs.
The bookmaker is concerned about new UK gambling laws coming into force on April 1, which limit the maximum bet people can place on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.
These are machines where gamblers can place bets on the outcome of simulated games and events such as roulette, blackjack, bingo and horse racing.
William Hill first confirmed it was considering store closures after disappointing half-year results in 2018.
Now, following publication of a trading statement yesterday, the bookmaker has confirmed that store closures may have to go ahead, but has said that it is hoping they can be avoided.
It has approximately 2,300 stores in the UK, so the maximum closures represent almost half (40 per cent) of its shops.
In the first instance, the bookmaker is looking to remodel stores to focus on other products, and has indicated that closures would be a steady drip rather than a sudden change.
How many stores eventually close is likely to depend on the impact of regulations on consumer behaviour and what its competitors do.
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The bookmaker has confirmed that it will start shutting loss-making shops this year, and thinks that as many as 900 could eventually become loss-making meaning they may have to close in the future.
As each shop has about five members of staff, the move could put 4,500 jobs at risk.
It is not yet clear how many shops are already operating at a loss and therefore likely to close in 2019.
The group has said that each store closure could cost up to £60,000 and that operating profits would likely decrease by up to £100million a year.
Last year, William Hill announced that its US operations could help bolster the company’s fortunes, following the overturning of a Supreme Court decision that limited sports betting in the US.
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William Hill chief executive Philip Bowcock said: “It has been an excellent start for us since PASPA was overturned. We have built on our existing business in Nevada which is number one and growing and in Delaware where we are risk manager for the entire state.
“We are now the early market leader in New Jersey where our mobile app will launch within weeks and we expect to be market leader in Mississippi with these 11 casino agreements.
“The team continue to engage in discussions that cover a further 14 states.”
The bookmaker is still making acquisitions in other markets, for instance a deal to acquire onling Swedish gaming company Mr Green.
But the future remains rocky for the UK business.
The bookmaker said that its operating profit is expected to come in at £234million, significantly lower than last year, but within the expected range that it had previously set out.
The Sun has contacted William Hill for a statement.
There’s bad news for gamblers as a remote gaming duty will rise by 6 per cent from October this year.
Meanwhile, a new Barclays app limits spending on gambling and drinking by blocking customers’ cards from “turned off” types of expenses.
And digital bank Monzo is going to let customers block payments to gambling sites to help addicts.