Jobs in doubt as bookmakers face axe

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SCORES of local jobs were in doubt today after a major bookmaker announced plans to close more than 100 shops.

William Hill has said it will shut 109 premises this year - putting 430 jobs at risk - due to the impact of the Government’s surprise decision to increase tax on fixed-odds betting machines.

The chain, which has a number of sites across the borough, including four in the town centre, will get rid of its worst-performing outlets.

Bookmaker bosses will enter into consultations with representatives on Monday to discuss the approach to the shop closures and risk to employment.

A spokesman said: “This process will involve consultations on ways in which we can look to redeploy those colleagues impacted by the closures, and where we can, reduce the number of redundancies.

“The closures are expected to be in place by the end of the year. Obviously we will be trying our very best to minimise redundancies across the estate and would hope to redeploy many of those affected.”

William Hill said the five per cent duty hike made it unlikely that the shops, most of which are loss-making, can be successfully turned around.

It had already warned that George Osborne’s Budget increase in the tax on fixed odds betting terminals will cost the company around £22 million per year.

Operating profits in both William Hill and Ladbrokes fell 14 per cent in the first quarter of the year, which the industry called “knee-jerk and ill-considered”.

A number of different bookmakers in Wigan have since petitioned against the measures.

In a trading statement, William Hill chief executive Ralph Topping described the shop closures as particularly disappointing.

He said: “As a direct result of the Government’s unexpected announcement about an increase in Machine Gaming Duty to 25 per cent, we have reviewed shop profitability.

“This is particularly disappointing as, through the economic downturn, we have worked hard to grow our retail base but this further planned increase in indirect taxation makes this action necessary.”