When Betfair founders Andrew Black and Edward Wray launched a daring publicity stunt for their innovative startup company back in 1999, little did they know that their ‘tongue in cheek’ message might actually come true over two decades later.
Approaching marketing firm Circus, armed with a £120,000 budget, the dynamic duo approved a ‘launch party’ for their new venture which saw the streets of London lined with a parade of coffins being carried through the city centre with a clearly cheekily antagonistic message; “death of the bookie”.
Fast forward over 20 years, the traditional British gambling industry has witnessed the closure of thousands of shops, mainly belonging to two of the ‘Big 3’ high street companies; Coral and Ladbrokes, and increasingly so since those two companies merged.
The last of the remaining so-called ‘Big 3’ betting firms was acquired by American casino corporation Caesers recently, effectively bringing the curtain down on an over half a century history of a company that has become firmly integrated into British retail culture.
Since the end of the nineties, William Hill along with its rivals began to realise the need to diversify and while they may have been slightly behind the game of newer companies, they have steadily built out a very reputable online presence in the years since.
In 2012, William Hill began to explore the possibility of what was at the time a non-existent US market from an online casino perspective. While at the time, online gambling in there was prohibited, they began putting plans in place to be able to move quickly should this be legalised.
Although this was clearly a gamble, they had recognised the huge potential for this to be a success and as a result, the company knew that if they could forge the relationships they could quickly broker deals to be the first European gambling firm in the US should legislation be passed. They realised at the time, that this would give them a considerable advantage over their competition, should such a favourable ruling be made.
In the years, since, William Hill has become a significant name in the US and following the legislation change in 2018 which allowed sports betting outside of the state of Nevada their brand presence has increased.
This was made even more so, after a joint venture with Caesers in 2019 which meant that William Hill betting terminals could appear in their casinos and this move saw a considerable increase in revenue, especially for their US arm.
It essentially was this which led to William Hill becoming the subject of acquisition interest and while another party was keen, it appeared that it was always going to be Caesers who would have their bid accepted, with their joint-venture being a key part of the negotiations.
What Next For William Hill?
Although Ceasers now own William Hill in its entirety, it appears they have shown zero interest in the company’s assets outside of the US, which has conjured questions about the future of other divisions.
Caesars clearly wants to concentrate on the US market and feel that what William Hill already has in place, can help them to carve out a considerable share of the US online gambling industry. This has been particularly successful for them already, following their joint venture with William Hill and they have recognised the potential for the rest of the US, especially as and when legislation is passed in more states.
However, it is the assets that are more focused on the European and UK market which have come under scrutiny since the acquisition. What has become clear is that Caesers do not plan to have any involvement with these moving forward and their in excess of 1500 betting shops in particular are seemingly surplus to requirements.
It has sparked suggestions that these could be sold off to potential interested parties, though one name that does not appear to go away is that of Fred Done who owns British bookmaker Betfred and already has a six percent stake in William Hill already.
Whether he would turn these into Betfred shops remains to be seen, especially with online gambling appearing to be the main source of revenue for the entire industry and with the situation regarding COVID-19. Betfred are currently now the last remaining high street bookmaker in the UK while it also begs the question, are they and fellow British bookmakers Bet365 staying private to avoid a similar situation happening like the one with William Hill?
With regards to the online operations of William Hill (not US related), it appears that there may well be interest from a handful of possible bidders, including private equity companies CVC Capital Partners (previous owners of SkyBet), or Apollo Global Management who were understood to be competing with Caesers to acquire William Hill outright.
Also, it will be interesting to see if online casino firms 888 Holdings and Rank Group make any bids for the online assets, especially after they had a failed takeover attempt in 2016. There are rumours that this, once again could happen, especially with Rank having numerous land based casinos and bingo halls already in the UK.
For many, the splitting up of William Hill, considered by many in the UK to be almost a British institution may be hard for loyalists in particular to come to terms with, especially after such a long and decorated history, however, in the gambling industry as we are increasingly seeing, nothing stays the same forever, especially with the endless possibilities online. Publicity stunts it seems, are no longer necessary.