September 5, 2019 / 6:56 AM / 15 days ago

UPDATE 2-William Hill bets on digital executive as CEO in online focus

* Appointment makes Bengtsson third new CEO in 5 years

* William Hill closing hundreds of betting shops in Britain

* New CEO has experience in digital gambling (Adds details on new CEO, background on industry, management changes)

By Noor Zainab Hussain

Sept 5 (Reuters) - William Hill promoted its digital boss Ulrik Bengtsson to the chief executive’s role, making the Swede the British gambling company’s third new boss in five years as it closes hundreds of betting shops and shifts its focus online.

William Hill said current CEO Philip Bowcock would leave at the end of September after only three years at the helm. Bowcock this year announced plans to close 700 British betting shops after the government clamped down on gaming machines that draw in many gamblers.

Bengtsson, 47, who brings experience of working with digital, international and gambling companies, will be the first foreign CEO of the company,

He joined William Hill in April last year and had been CEO of Swedish online gaming and betting company Betsson AB and run its business in Malta, a hub for online gambling firms.

William Hill, which earns the majority of its money in Britain, said on Thursday the change at the top was consistent with a strategy of becoming a “digitally led and internationally diverse” gambling company.

Bowcock had joined William Hill in November 2015 as CFO from cinema operator Cineworld with no prior experience in the gambling industry. His predecessor as chief executive, James Henderson, left the company in 2016 after he failed to deliver enough growth in online and international gambling.

William Hill has struggled to fill the shoes of former CEO Ralph Topping who retired in 2014 after more than 40 years at the company. Topping had helped to make the company Britain’s largest listed bookmaker by adding online and international operations to its chain of high street betting shops.

William Hill missed out on a round of consolidation in the sector and is currently the second largest gambling company on UK's high street, trailing rival GVC's Ladbrokes, according to onlinebetting.org.uk here

Bengtsson’s appointment comes at a time of big change on the high street after Britain cut the maximum stake allowed on fixed odds betting terminals from 100 pounds to just 2 pounds after concerns that the machines fuelled problem gambling.

With its wings clipped at home, William Hill has joined a group of British betting companies that have been expanding in the United States after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban on sports betting.

William Hill also bought Swedish gambling company Mr Green & Co in a $308 million deal announced last October as part of its efforts to expand internationally.

Bengtsson, a supporter of London Premier League soccer club Chelsea, will receive a base salary of 600,000 pounds ($736,620) annually, in line with Bowcock’s salary.

$1 = 0.8145 pounds Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Bernard Orr

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