February 21, 2008

Topping on top at Hill’s

William Hill has appointed its operating director Ralph Topping as the company’s new chief executive. Topping currently has responsibility for the group’s UK-based operations and was originally appointed to the board in April 2007. He joined the firm in 1973.

Charles Scott, chairman, said: “The Board has undertaken an extremely thorough search process over recent months. We have tested the market place in considerable detail. (With) than 35 years of industry experience, we have a first-class appointment. We will also benefit from his deep knowledge of the William Hill business.”

Topping’s appointment comes a day after the company saw its share price drop 22p to 403p on concerns that the UK government might be having another look at the regulations regarding fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs).

Sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe told Reuters yesterday that he was “concerned about the longer-term impact of the growing popularity of FOBTs and have asked the Gambling Commission to give particular priority to work on the risks associated with high-stakes machines. We have always said if any evidence emerges that they are causing harm, then we are prepared to take action and we have the power to take actions.”

Sutcliffe was speaking after the government announced that the horseracing levy regime would be extended for one more year while the horseracing industry and the bookmakers come to an agreement on further funding.

Topping will also be faced this morning with a sell note from analysts at Investec. Matthew Gerard from the firm has downgraded estimates for both William Hill and Ladbrokes “to reflect our negative view of the prospects for both businesses for the remainder of 2008 and 2009”.

Gerard notes that William Hill suffering in particular from problems at its online division. He adds that he believes all high-street bookmakers are “more exposed to a consumer slowdown that has historically been the case”.