4,500 jobs at risk as William Hill announces it is to close 700 betting shops

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Ben Chapman

Betting group William Hill has said it plans to close around 700 betting shops across the UK, putting 4,500 jobs at risk - blasted as "devastating news" by the industry's trade union.

The betting company said the move follows the Government's decision to make the maximum stake on fixed odds betting terminals £2.

In a statement, William Hill said: "This follows the Government's decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 gaming products to £2 on April 1, 2019.

"Since then the company has seen a significant fall in gaming machine revenues, in line with the guidance given when the Government's decision was announced in May 2018."

It plans to begin shutting shops by the end of the year.

  • 'Devastating news for thousands of betting shop workers'

The closures have been branded 'devastating news' for shop workers. Credit: PA

The industry's trade union blasted the closures as "devastating news" for workers and called on the Government to offer support.

The closures will see William Hill's 2,282 shop estate shrink by close to a third.

It said it was too early to confirm which shops will shut until consultations are complete.

William Hill - which has 16,000 employees across the group - said it would look to offer voluntary redundancy and redeploy affected staff "extensively" where possible, "providing support to all colleagues throughout the process".

Former gambling addict Hussain Vorajee, who lost £100,000,000 in the gaming machines, told ITV News: "I personally would be happy to see 7,000 shops rather than 700."

Hussain Vorajee lost £100,000,000 in the gaming machines. Credit: ITV News

He said: "How many thousands of people's lives are going to be saved, you know, how many more families, how many less divorces, if you're talking about 5,000 job losses it's still very little in terms of how much misery it can cause others.

The news comes after the bookie's betting shops have been suffering following the FOBT's (fixed-odds betting terminals) stake move, as well as challenging high street conditions.

William Hill had previously warned it may have to axe up to 900 shops as a result of the FOBT crackdown.

William Hill had previously warned of closures as a result on crackdowns on betting machines.. Credit: PA

GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, has previously said up to 1,000 of its bookies were at risk of closure due to the clampdown.

Tom Blenkinsop, operations director at the Community union, said: "This is devastating news for thousands of betting shop workers."

He added: "The Government also has a role to play and must look at what support they can offer to workers whose jobs are threatened as a consequence of changes to the law around FOBTs"

"Workers don't deserve to be the victims of the changes happening in the industry as a result of either government policy or the significant shift towards online gambling," he said.

William Hill revealed in March it had swung to a pre-tax loss of £721.9 million in 2018 compared with a profit of £146.5 million the prior year after it took an £882.8 million hit on its retail operations in light of the FOBT stake reduction.

In its most recent trading update since the stake cut came into effect, William Hill said gaming net revenues plunged 15% in the 17 weeks to April 30, with wider retail turnover down 7%.

  • Why was the maximum stake cut to £2?

The maximum stake on gambling machines in betting shops was cut from £100 this year to just £2. Credit: PA

The Government had originally planned to cut the maximum stake in October 2019 - pushed back from the April.

But after widespread opposition, the decision was reversed and the cut came into force in April this year.

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch had resigned over the delay.

A campaign to make the cut claimed fixed-odds betting terminals "caused endless harm" and "terrible damage to families".

With a maximum stake of £100 at betting shops dotted around high streets across the country, campaigners argued even the poorest families were most vulnerable and could easily lose hundreds of pounds after just minutes on a gambling machine in the middle of the day.