William Hill falls at Government’s high tax hurdles

Bookmaker William Hill attacked the Government’s „flip-flopping“ gambling policy as it posted an underlying 10pc fall in first-half profits, hit by losing results from Euro 2008 and Royal Ascot.

Ralph Topping, chief executive, called for a cut in the tax paid by UK-based bookmakers on internet gambling and warned the Government against any crackdowns on fixed-odds betting terminals.

„We paid GBP 267m in taxes last year plus GBP 30m in levies to the horseracing and greyhound industries and employ 14,000 people,“ Mr Topping said. „This business has to be allowed some room to grow. What I am saying to the Government is, please think things through from all angles.“

A big chunk of William Hill’s tax bill is the 15pc impost bookies pay on their gross profits. Mr Topping said: „A 15pc gross profits tax on online gambling is not appropriate in this environment,“ arguing it made UK-based bookmakers uncompetitive against offshore rivals.

„The Government said in 2001 that the UK would become the centre for e-commerce businesses and they have failed. It’s because they are not sure of what they are doing. They flip-flop all the time.“

Profits before finance charges and exceptionals fell 10pc to GBP 145m, despite a 4pc rise in gross win to GBP 516m, hit by poor results and the extra GBP 5m costs of signing up to Turf TV – the new racecourse-backed betting shop television service. Pre-tax profits fell 18pc to GBP 111m. The shares fell 11½ to 314½p.

The weakest part of the business was telephone gambling, where profits fell by GBP 5.3m to GBP 4.5m, after the bookie was on the receiving end of GBP 250,000 bets from big punters.

„We’ve had bad results in Euro 2008 and a drastic Royal Ascot,“ Mr Topping said. „The first 10 matches of the Euros we never won a copper coin. After that, I used to walk round the garden and only come in for the result. My wife said, ‚I thought you liked football‘. I said, ‚only when I’m winning‘.“

He reckoned that tournament and Royal Ascot, where gross win fell 78pc year-on-year, cost the bookie GBP 4m-GBP 4.5m. Gross win was down 1pc in the first four weeks of the second half.

Mr Topping said he had registered interest in bidding for around 50 of the Tote’s betting shops, but doubted the Government would sell the rival bookmaker this autumn. „You can have odds-against with me. I think it will be deferred again.“

The interim dividend, payable on December 5, was held at 7¾p – the first time William Hill has failed to raise it since 2002’s float.