Wednesday, September 4, 2013

William Hill to axe online betting brands

Glen Boss guides Vain Queen to victory in the Sportingbet Sprint Series Heat1 Handicap at Caulfield on Saturday.

William Hill bought Sportingbet, which owns Centrebet, in March. Photo: Getty Images

William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping plans to scrap online betting brands Sportingbet and Centrebet from the Australian marketplace, The Australian Financial Review reports.

It would be the London group's first move since the $40 million acquisition of Tom Waterhouse's company.

William Hill, which is one Britain's biggest wagering operators, spent $700 million establishing a presence in Australia through the purchase of TomWaterhouse.com.au and Sportingbet (which owns Centrebet) in March.

Mr Topping told The Australian Financial Review that the London Stock Exchange-listed company wanted eventually to consolidate most of the businesses under the William Hill brand to take on what he described as "struggling" online operations of local companies such as Tatts Group and Tabcorp.

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Mr Waterhouse's controversial brand will remain until December 2015, as part of a potential $70 million earn-out agreed to as part of the acquisition struck in August.

But Mr Topping said Centrebet was a "secondary brand" and there was some confusion in the market between Sportingbet and Sportsbet, the online bookmaker owned by rival British giant Paddy Power.

"You've got confusion of brands and you have to look for a unifying brand," he said. "They're all strong brands but I believe the strongest brand of the lot is potentially William Hill."

The news comes amid growing competition in the $26 billion local wagering industry from British bookmakers.

London's third major player, Ladbrokes, announced on Wednesday a $22.5 million acquisition of local company Gaming Investments, which runs bookmaker.com.au. The Brisbane company was founded by Dean Shannon, who established the internet pornography division of AdultShop.

Mr Topping said the review of Australian brands would be discussed at a board meeting in London next week.

Although the final decision rests with the board of William Hill, Mr Topping intimated it would be a tough sell to go against the "personal preference" of the chief executive. He expects a final decision within four to six weeks.

"This is not a gut reaction, it's based on an assessment of the marketplace," he said. "William Hill is 80 years old. This is not a fly-by-night brand."


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