February 23, 2018 / 7:48 AM / 23 days ago

UPDATE 2-William Hill ponders Australia exit after charges put it in red

* Australia business takes 238 mln pound one-off charge

* Reviewing Australia business; exit under consideration - CEO

* Charge knocks William Hill to first pretax loss in 3 yrs (Recasts, adds quotes from CEO, analyst view)

By Rahul B

Feb 23 (Reuters) - British bookmaker William Hill could pull out of Australia after booking exceptional charges on operations there and suffering its first pretax loss in three years.

William Hill, which has around 284,000 customers in Australia, said a strategic review of the business would conclude by the middle of the year.

“We are considering both inorganic and organic options right now so an exit is under consideration, Chief Executive Philip Bowcock told Reuters in an interview.

Analysts at brokerage Investec say they see a sale of the division as “very likely” for a price of between 112 million pounds to 84 million pounds.

The Australian business made up 7 percent of annual revenue and near 6 percent of adjusted operating profit for William Hill in 2017.

A retreat from Australia would raise further questions about the future of William Hill which has missed out on a round of consolidation in its home British market.

William Hill, which expanded in Australia in 2013 through acquisitions, took an exceptional charge of over 238 million pounds ($332 million) on its Australian operations for 2017.

One-off charges pushed William Hill to a pretax loss of 74.6 million pounds, sending its shares as much as 2.8 percent lower before they recovered to trade flat by 1110 GMT.

Adjusted operating profit for the 52 weeks to Dec. 26 rose to 291.3 million pounds from 261.5 million pounds in the previous year, helped by favourable sporting results in English Premier League soccer matches.

Growth at both its online and high street retail businesses was above market rates, William Hill said. $1 = 0.7168 pounds) (Reporting by Rahul B in Bengaluru; Editing by Vyas Mohan and Keith Weir)

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