Up to 350 jobs were today under threat at William Hill after the bookmaker announced plans to move its telephone business offshore and review some loss-making betting shops.
William Hill said 150 jobs could be lost across its Sheffield and Leeds call centres in England – which employ 400 staff between them – as part of a move to establish a new call centre in Gibraltar.
The Leeds centre will close and the Sheffield site will be handed over to outsourcing firm Vertex.
The firm is also reviewing the future of 50 of its 170 unprofitable shops, which it said could put another 200 jobs at risk by the end of the year.
Chief executive Ralph Topping hit out at “unfair pressure” on the business due to competition from offshore operators and betting exchanges like Betfair - allowing punters to act as bookmakers – which work under a more favourable tax regime.
He warned: “Betting exchanges – and particularly Betfair as the dominant market player – have fundamentally changed the structure of the UK betting market with little reaction to this from government or other agencies.
“This has been exacerbated by competition from offshore telephone operators and the previous Government’s inertia over the issue of creating a level tax and regulatory playing field.”
William Hill's telephone betting business lost £1.8m (€2.1m) last year and is expected to make a small operating loss for the first half of 2010.
The business currently pays 15% gross profits tax and a 10% horseracing levy on its takings – but has hit out at major players ’laying’ huge volumes of wagers on betting exchanges, effectively trading as bookmakers but without paying the same charges.
Mr Topping said the structural changes to the industry “needs to be backed up by firm Government action” to create a more even playing field.
He said the bookmaker had “done what we can” to preserve jobs, but warned: “As a UK plc operating in a global context and responsible for some 16,000 employees, we do not have the luxury of waiting for years to see how fiscal and regulatory policy develops in our sector.”
The firm said last week it enjoyed a “very strong” World Cup but saw its worst ever Royal Ascot and suffered a weak Grand National, which was won by favourite Tony McCoy on Don’t Push It.