William Hill Again Eyes Float

25 January 2000
Heavyweight U.K. bookmaker William Hill has begun the new year with a pretty big bang. Last week the company announced the launching of a duty-free betting service based in Antigua. This week the company is reportedly considering another stock market float.

The Antigua site enables punters to place telephone wagers via the company call centre in Athlone, Ireland. U.K. bookmakers have been asking the Treasury to lower the current betting tax of 9 percent. William Hill execs have been among the loudest, and have even suggested that the tax burden should be shouldered by the bookmakers and not the bettors. The struggle is intensifying because British bookmakers are watching their profits fall while the government wants to keep the tax money rolling in.

Part of the problem is that many bookmakers have headed offshore, which allows them to offer lower duty to the punter. Government officials are upset and are reportedly looking for new means to retrieve the lost duties.

The stock float is William Hill's second attempt to raise capital. Last year the company tried and failed to launch a float. Its then owner, Japanese bank Nomura, abandoned the float when London investors failed to materialize. The company was then sold to CVC Capital Parners and Cinven.

"I suppose the company looked a bit boring back then and there was some skepticism about whether the Internet site would work," Chief Executive John Brown said in a PA News article. "Now we have great offshore telephone betting operations, internet betting and the branches are doing well."

As an effort to beef up its offering, William Hill is also said to be talking with online sports information providers about developing online gambling services and sports editorial.

Emily Swoboda is the senior staff writer at IGamingNews. She lives in St. Louis, Mo.