February 24, 2017 / 7:55 AM / 5 months ago

UPDATE 2-William Hill says in final straight in search for CEO

3 Min Read

* Operating profit falls 10 percent

* New chief executive to be named in coming weeks

* Plans 40 million pound cost-cutting programme (Recasts, adds shares, quotes from Chairman)

Feb 24 (Reuters) - British bookmaker William Hill Plc said it was set to name a new chief executive shortly and expected a stronger performance in 2017 after operating profit fell by 10 percent last year.

The betting chain has been without a permanent chief executive since losing patience with James Henderson last July because he was failing to deliver enough growth in online and international gambling.

The Financial Times reported this week that interim CEO Philip Bowcock was poised to be confirmed in the role.

"I am pleased to say that we are now entering the final stages and expect to complete an announcement in a few weeks’ time," Chairman Gareth Davis said on the search process for a new CEO. He did not comment on whether former finance director Bowcock was in line for the job.

William Hill has also missed out on a round of mergers in the sector which has created stronger competitors as European rivals Paddy Power and Betfair joined forces, while Ladbrokes merged with Gala Coral.

Operating profit last year fell to 261.5 million pounds ($328.2 million) from 291.4 million, as challenging trading conditions and unfavourable soccer and Cheltenham horse racing festival results took their toll.

The earnings were in line with the company's guidance from January and it pointed to a brighter 2017, helping to support its shares which traded 1 percent higher by 0910 GMT.

"With a clear strategy in place and strong indications that online is returning to sustained growth, we are confident of William Hill's ability to deliver a stronger performance in 2017, subject to normalised gross win margins in the period," the company said.

The bookmaker added that it was looking to increase efficiencies through a cost-cutting programme that would free up 40 million pounds of capital for reinvestment. ($1 = 0.7969 pounds) (Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru; editing by David Clarke and Keith Weir)

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