The Good, The Bad and The Furloughed

Arch rivals William Hill (WH) and Ladbrokes have set themselves up as the good and the bad of the furloughed gambling industry.

In a PR master stroke last August, WH returned £24.5m (US$33.68m/€28.27m) in taxpayer support it had received during lockdowns to help pay the wages of its 7,000 retail staff.

The iconic British bookies said they could afford to return the money to the treasury because the firm–soon to formally merge with US gaming giant Caesars Entertainment–had significantly increased online profits during the pandemic.

But this week WH’s big rivals, Labrokes, owned by the Entain Group, declined to match its offer by returning the millions of pounds in furlough contributions the firm received from the government — despite making a £114m (US$156.75m/€131.55m) profit in 2020 on top of 40 per cent surge in share price.

According to UK treasury stats, Entain received between £12.5m (US$17.18m/€14.42m) and £30m (US$41.25m/€34.62m) in furlough payments in December and January, to help pay its 14,000 staff at the company’s 3,000 high street bookies.

By its own accounts, Entain enjoyed a £500m (US$687.51m/€576.99m) surge in online sales — and recorded a profit of £113.8m (US$156.47m/€131.32m) on flat revenues of £3.6bn (US$4.94bn/€4.15bn) in 2020. A WH spokesperson said: “In light of [the] positive trading environment, the board feel it is appropriate to repay the furlough funds received, amounting to £24.5m. We will not be claiming the job retention bonus.”

For its part, Entain said in a statement: “The furlough scheme has been a sensible and highly welcome policy intervention that helped us, as one of the country’s largest retailers, to maintain the livelihoods of more than 14,000 retail colleagues on full pay.

“Whilst the virus is still with us and the outlook, although improving, is still far from certain, the board will continue to keep the situation under review.”

Entain is not the only iGaming heavy hitter to profit from the British government’s generous employee furlough scheme. Betfred, owned by the billionaire Done brothers, also received around £10m (US$13.74m/€11.53m) in taxpayer support at the turn of the year, it has been reported.

All of it frustrating news to the fiercely anti-betting All-Party Parliamentary Group on Gambling Related Harm.

“These companies have made vast profits over the past year, taken directly from punters’ losses,” commented the group’s Chair, Labour MP Carolyn Harris: “Now they are taking from the taxpayer too.”

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