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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 March, 2004, 09:32 GMT
William Hill reports profits jump
Horse racing
William Hill's shares have soared since its flotation in 2002
Bookmaker William Hill has reported a big jump in annual profits and said it made an encouraging start to 2004.

Britain's second-biggest betting shop chain saw its pre-tax profits after exceptional costs come in at 170.8m ($319.1m), up from 32.4m last year.

William Hill said its gross win - the amount left behind by punters after betting - rose 17% in the first eight weeks of the current year.

Rival UK bookmaker Ladbrokes last week unveiled a 43% rise in profits.

Shareholder value

William Hill, which runs about 1,600 betting shops and offers telephone and online gambling, said it was looking to boost shareholder value through share buy-backs.

Our younger customers like to bet on football, rugby and on novelty bets such as Big Brother and the Oscars
Christopher Bell, chief executive Ladbrokes

Its stock has outperformed the FTSE 100 index by more than 90% in the past year.

William Hill's board said it would seek permission at its next annual general meeting to buy back up to 10% of the group's shares.

Chief executive David Harding said: "William Hill is taking steps to return value to shareholders via an increase in dividends and by seeking authority from shareholders for a share buy-back."

Sunday hours

The gross win from the company's 3,239 fixed odds betting terminals, including slot machines, more than doubled last year to 100.5m.

Meanwhile, telephone gambling saw an 11% increase in the gross win to 56.5m, boosted by bigger returns from football following the decision to allow bets once matches have started.

But the group said its decision to extend opening hours to Sundays had contributed to a 10% rise in costs at its betting shops.

In early trade on the London Stock Exchange, shares in William Hill were a touch lower, down 10.5p to 485p. The group's flotation price in June 2002 was 225p.

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William Hill shares race ahead
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