William Hill Overview and History
William Hill is the world's largest betting brand. In the UK alone they have 2,325 betting shops. They also operate an online gambling site that's available in 24 languages and 10 currencies. This site offers sports betting, horse race betting, financial betting, casino, poker, bingo, skill games and arcade games all from a single website and player account bank. As a company publicly traded on the London Stock Exchange (WMH.L), it can be verified in 2011 they serviced more 1.3 million gamblers and had profit exceeding £146.5 million. How does a company get to be this size? This is what will be covered in this article on the history of William Hill.
William Hill (founder) Born in 1903
The William Hill story begins with the 16 July 1903 birth of their founder also named William Hill. He was born in Birmingham, England as the second of 13 children of a strict family. As a young lad he attended Oldknow Road School, before leaving to work his uncle's farm at age 12. He later still as a child worked for BSA works in Birmingham. Perhaps rebellious over the strict upbringing, overcrowded home, and working life, at age 16 he lied about his age, and jumped on a wagon to join the Black and Tans.
Legend has it William Hill developed a passion for horseracing and bookmaking at a young age. During his day with BSA works, he was introduced to betting. While with the Black and Tans he was stationed in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland. From here he spent his free time taking bets from Moss Foley's pub. Returning from duty he remained in the bookmaking business on a small scale.
William Hill's first attempt at legal bookmaker came in 1925 as an on course bookmaker at Birmingham tracks. Due the inability to lay off a couple large bets, he soon lost all his capital. In 1929, he moved to London to and began taking bets on greyhounds. This allowed him to save up enough capital to invest and become a part owner in Northolt Park Racetrack, which would become famous for pony races.
William Hill (Company) Founded 1934
In 1934, William Hill opened his first off-track betting shop in Park Lane London. This was the start of the company known today as William Hill. At the time cash bookmaking was still illegal. William Hill used a loophole in the law that required "credit only" betting, by having punters provide checks (in person of via post) weeks in advanced. These were cashed only after the even took place, making it fully legal while he also retained legal recourse against any bounced checks. William Hill then continued to build his business on "trust". At the time gambling debts were not enforceable by law, so bookies didn't even need to legally pay punters. While there were many scams, his business grew to some 500,000 serviced by the 1960's because had a reputation as an honest businessman that pays winners.
The Invention of Fixed Odds Football Betting
In 1944, William Hill became the first bookie to offer fixed odds on football betting. The history of Ladbrokes reported elsewhere, often fails to give him credit. No doubt Ladbrokes was the first UK licensed betting shop to offer fixed odds, however William Hill was doing so as credit bookmaker much earlier. In fact, court record also indicates he did so before Ladbrokes, as he successfully sued them in the early 1960's for copying his ticket. Being the good sport he was, he asked for only £1 damages plus his costs, which the House of Lords granted.
William Hill as a Breeder
By the late 1930's William Hill had become the first ever self-made millionaire bookie. While continuing his bookmaking empire he became passionate about breeding horses. He purchased a stud at Whitsbury in Hampshire in 1943 (Nimbus), which in 1949 won the Two Thousand Guineas and Derby. In 1945 he purchased Sezincote stud in Gloucestershire that won the 1953 Derby. He also won a Classic with Cantelo in the 1959 St. Leger, and won the Gimcrack Stake and Champagne Stake in 1958 with Be Careful.
William Hill the First Ever PLC Bookmaker
In 1954 William Hill moved his business to a shell company called Holder's Investment Trust to secure position as the first bookmaker ever publicly listed on the London Stock Exchange. From 1955 to 1961 he'd sell portions of his shares for excess of £5 million.
William Hill Personal Life
In order to explain William Hill's late move into the betting shop business it's important to cover his personal life a bit. In 1923 he married Ivy Burley (nickname: Daisy), who was a hairdresser in Birmingham. They had their first and only child the following year, Kathleen Hill (nickname: Bubbles), later Kathleen Lavinia due to marriage. She passed away at age 37. The Saint Leonard's Parish Church of Whitsbury which is located nearby the track he purchased his first stud, to this day bears the words:
"To the Glory of God And in Loving Memory of their daughter Kathleen Lavinia, Born 10th Fob 1924 Died 27 Nov 1961 This church was restored and refurnished in 1963 by William and Ivy Hill".
William Hill was not a money hungry coldhearted bookie. During his lifetime he raced and bread horses with a passion, took regular fishing trips, and sponsored youth cricket leagues. He was a devout Roman Catholic and Socialist. When the UK legalized betting shops, effective May 1, 1961, he was outspoken against them. He went as far as calling them a cancer on society the preyed on the working man. In his opinion betting was a recreational activity and competition for those who could afford it. He was an honest bookie and made millions many times over in his lifetime due to hard work, trust, and running an honest shop.
By1966 however, betting shops had become so widespread in the UK, he recognized traditional bookies had no choice but to adapt. He began investing to start the betting shops empire known today. In 1970 he retired and passed away the following year.
Ownership After William Hill's Death
When William Hill died on October 16, 1971 the business was taken over by Sears Plc. Many William Hill history articles associate this Sears with Sears Holdings Group, which has 4,000 retail locations under Sears and Kmart brand names. This is however NOT the same Sears. The Sears that took over William Hill is a UK conglomerate in the retail shoes business. Their current brands include Barratts and Priceless Shoes. While under Sears ownership the company grew to 1800 legal betting shops by 1988.
In 1989 William Hill was purchased by Brent Walker. This same year they became the official bookmaker of Golf's PGA European Tour, and had betting shops located on course. During the 1990's betting shops became more socially acceptable in the UK. They were no longer required to blackout their windows, and instead could display odds and advertisements on the windows for all to see. The law that prohibited them from being open on Sundays was also repealed and the availability to advertise with newspaper, television and radio was granted. Private Scratchcards were also legalized and soon became offered at William Hill Shops. With betting now mainstream, Walker cashed in selling them to Nomura (Grand Bookmaking Companies) for £700m. They sold it 2 years later in 1999 to Cinven and CVC Partners for £825 million. Finally, in 2002, William Hill was successfully floated on the London Stock Exchange for approximately £1 billion.
William Hill Online
In 2000, William Hill launched an off-shore phone in betting shop. This used a call center in Athlone, Ireland, which accepted bets for William Hill International based in Antigua where the tax was only 3%. That same year they became the first UK bookmaker to offer tax free betting via the internet. Oddly enough, despite being known by all bettors alive as William, they had to use the domain willhill.com. The domain williamhill.com was already in use by a winery based in California. That winery stopped using it in late 2005, and William Hill the bookmaker acquired it in 2009, redirecting the brand they built.
As you can imagine, this was already the largest betting brand in the world, so their growth as an online company was a natural transition. These days there are many multiple language betting sites, but when William Hill entered the market full scale in 2000, there were few. For reason they already were popularly internationally and the biggest bookmaker in the UK - their growth came fast when launched in 2000 supporting English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Norwegian and Finnish languages. In late 2000 they added and online casino to their offering, and then an online poker room in 2003. On April 17, 2002 William Hill signed a deal with the British Horseracing Board for the commercial use of data. This made full racing data available on their online website.
After successful floating on London Stock Exchange in 2002, they made numerous acquisitions. In September 2002 they purchased Sunderland Greyhound Stadium. In March the following year Brough Park Greyhound Stadium was bought. In 2005, they acquired 624 betting shops from Stanley Leisure for £504 million, though had to sell 78 of them for over an anti-competitive practice ruling. In 2008, they went into partnership with the world's largest casino software provider and poker network operator Playtech. As mentioned in the intro, William Hill remains the world's largest betting brand. Their website is available in 24 languages and 10 currencies, and supports sports betting, horse race betting, financial betting, casino, poker, bingo, skill games and arcade games. This is no doubt one of the safest and most well regulated websites for online gamblers to use.