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William Hill appoint insider as new CEO

Friday, July 04 11:41:30

Leading British bookmaker William Hill has promoted its operations director James Henderson to the chief executive's job, turning to another company veteran to steer it through tough times for the industry.

Henderson, who has been with the group for 29 years, will succeed chief executive Ralph Topping on Aug. 1. Topping is stepping down after 44 years with the firm, the last six of which have been in the top job.

The leadership change comes as the gambling sector faces huge financial pressure, with the British government tightening controls on betting shops and increasing taxes on online gambling and high stakes gambling machines.

The measures are expected to cost William Hill more than 80 million pounds ($136 million) when they come into force from early next year.

"There have been headwinds or regulatory pressures ever since bookmakers have been around," Henderson told reporters on a conference call.

"We are very resilient and normally come out of these," he added, saying he saw more opportunities than threats for the business.

The market welcomed the appointment, which had been flagged in the media in recent weeks. William Hill shares added 1.9 percent to 343p by 0930 GMT.

William Hill has already announced the closure of 100 of its more than 2,400 British betting shops this year, blaming a tax increase on high-stakes gambling from 20 percent to 25 percent.

Under Topping, the company has expanded its overseas operations in Australia, the United States and Europe and also established itself as a leading player in online gambling.

The company has pulled ahead of rival Ladbrokes to establish itself as Britain's largest bookmaker.

"More international growth is a central part of our strategy," said Chairman Gareth Davis.

Davis said the company had looked at internal and external candidates to replace the highly regarded Topping and that Henderson had been "head and shoulders" above his rivals.

"Companies that are doing well and with a successful culture tend to follow the internal route," he said.

Henderson, who joined 29 years ago as a trainee manager, will be paid a base salary of 550,000 pounds ($935,900) per year and will be eligible for the firm's bonus plans.

Topping was criticised by some shareholders last year for collecting a 1.2 million pound retention bonus. (Reuters)