Britain's largest bookmaker, William Hill, received its Nevada gaming license yesterday. William Hill needed the license to operate in the state after it purchased a trio of companies (American Wagering, Brandywine and Club Cal Neva) operating sportsbooks (Leroy's, Lucky's and Club Cal Neva) in Nevada for about $55 million.
After receiving the license, William Hill CEO Ralph Topping talked to Casino City about William Hill's plans in Nevada, what bettors can expect from William Hill and other topics in a wide-ranging interview.
Will we be seeing the William Hill brand appear in Nevada? Or are you going to maintain the original brands like Leroy's?
We had a big debate about that. I strongly believe it's William Hill, and it should be William Hill. It's a brand that consumers will enjoy. [They'll] enjoy the experience of betting with William Hill.
What can William Hill bring to the Nevada sports betting market that isn't there right now?
If you look at it, we're a huge U.K. corporate. We've got a young management team balanced by having experienced industry execs. Our focus as a business has always been on capital investment and developing of businesses which are capable of being developed quite significantly. So we've made a name in the U.K. in the last 24 months through the development of in-play [betting]. We expect to bring in in-play [betting] to Nevada in a significant way. In the U.K. we offer 31 markets on NFL matches, 32 on the NBA and 40 on the NHL. So we are a business that is focused on innovation and investment and I think the consumers in Nevada can expect to see us innovate and bring the innovations we've made elsewhere in the operation. They can expect to see refurbishments take place. They can expect to see developments in mobile and kiosk wagering. And they can expect to experience the development of a technology platform. From a front-end staff's point of view, I think we're a very good employer. We are looking at some of the terms and conditions people have in the U.S. I'm in favor of introducing some of the stuff we do in the U.K. into the U.S. We're developing a program in Kenya for executives, where we're looking at revamping a village. As an organization, we take our responsibility seriously for developing people. We're growing our management team from within and we'll continue to do that in the U.S.
Let's revisit the in-game betting. In my experiences with in-game betting in Nevada, you're only able bet [in game] on two or three of the games. The same with college football. Are you expecting to offer more, say every game on an NFL Sunday or every major college football game?
We did it in the U.K. last year -- every NFL match. We had in-play markets on every NFL match, and we will do the same in the U.S. And because you've been head-to-head, you wouldn't rule out doing it on the other activities as well.
Are you interested in expanding beyond sports betting in the U.S.?
Well, I think Steve Wynn can sleep easy. (laughter)
Do you expect to pursue an interactive gaming license in Nevada?
The one thing I will say about the end-play products is the products have to be pre-cleared by the Nevada gaming board. So we will take the products to the Nevada gaming board and let them see what we do.
How about for something like online poker?
We're interested in that. But I think there's a bit to go in that respect.
Looking forward to next year, what percentage of William Hill's revenue do you expect the U.S. market to generate for the company?
I'm not going to reveal our business plan to you. (laughter)
I've got to take shot, don't I?
You did well. You did well with that one. But I'm grey-haired and 61 years of age. So good luck.
What are your key reasons for entering the U.S. market? And what type of growth opportunity does it present William Hill?
If you just look at Nevada, there's an opportunity -- three businesses into one -- to grow the market in Nevada. So we see organic growth for the one consolidated business. So this will be a business that makes profits, that doesn't drain our cash flow. It gives us roots in a progressive state, which gets a lot of its revenue from gambling. So that was one opportunity. I think if you're looking at regulation, then if you're sitting in Nevada, you can understand where Nevada is going. But you can also understand perhaps where other parts of the U.S. are going to go because Nevada will be a strong reference point. That's attractive in its own way. During the licensing process, did we get approached by other organizations from other parts of the U.S.? Yes. Yes, we did. Interesting propositions as well. Of course, we couldn't do anything with them because we were going through the process and didn't know if we were going to get the license and didn't want to assume we would get the license. I expect people to come with some interesting propositions for William Hill now that we're licensed. I can't say for definite what they [the propositions] are, but as a business, we don't proclaim ourselves . . . we're a very humble management team. You won't get us saying, "Here's what we're going to do." We're not loudmouths in our business. We believe in doing things and delivering things, not saying what we're going to deliver and failing to deliver. As a management team, we're regular guys; we've operated with a certain style over the years, which has done us good both in the U.K. and Europe. We don't see any need to change it because we're in the States, and you know what, I think Nevadans will respond to that style.
What challenges does the Nevada market possess that William Hill doesn't have to face in other countries?
In terms of regulations, [Nevada] is really, really tough, and appropriately so. We're more used to gambling in Europe as a mainstream activity than you are in the U.S. If I had to characterize the whole of the U.S. -- outside of Nevada -- I would say in most things in life, America is about 10 years ahead of Europe, [but] when it comes down to betting, it's no exaggeration, I think you're 50 years behind.
How was undergoing the Nevada regulatory review different from experiences you've had with other regulatory bodies?
We had about five people go through the process. And because it involves your spouse, I think we had five near misses when it came to divorces. (chuckles) Happily, we're through it. I think a number of the guys bribed their wives during the process. I chose to shower love and affection on mine.
Did it ever feel like it was getting to be too much? Or did you think this is just the price of doing business?
We knew what to expect. We walked into it with ours eyes wide open. We were patient. And we have an enormous amount of respect for [Nevada Gaming Control Board Chairman] Mark Lipparelli -- a huge amount of respect for the guy. I think he's a quality regulator.
William Hill recently pulled out of the Australian market, in part, to protect your Nevada license application. Do you believe you operated in contravention of Australian law? Do you believe operators still in the market are there illegally?
When you look at the dot-com approach, which has been happening in Europe and elsewhere in the world, the way operators operated was they focused on markets that were important to them. So for us, and it shouldn't be a surprise, 92% of our business comes from the U.K. -- a heavily regulated marketplace -- and we're happy to be there. In the dot-com model, our view was where the transaction took place, if you were licensed to do that, it didn't matter necessarily where the consumer came from. In effect, the consumer was in Gibraltar when he was having the bet. From our point of view, where we've taken legal advice from certain territories, what we have done is walked away from those territories. The Australian operation was beginning to be above the radar in our organization. It was a small part of our operation. When the Nevadan guys questioned us on it, we said, "You know what, let's make life easy for everybody. Let's shut it down." I think there is an appreciation that when you're a land-based business, and you want to put your soldiers on the ground, that you have to understand how the regulation works. When you're an Internet business, with 300 countries worldwide and no universal approach to gambling and unsophisticated and changing approaches to gambling, then I think you have to be patient and wait and see. And that's exactly what we've done in various territories. But you know, 92% of our business is from the U.K., 8% therefore from elsewhere. A huge percentage of that 8 percent [is] from other regulated territories. It isn't a problem for William Hill. We concentrate on regulated markets.
Bettors in the U.S. have always taken comfort in that if something goes wrong, they know who to write to or complain to. If bettors have an unresolved issue with William Hill, who should they take their complaints to?
The management team in Nevada. You know, we've got a management team in Gibraltar, and I still get e-mails from people who write to me and say, "I've got this problem. It hasn't been resolved. Can you kick ass?" That's normal for any business. My e-mail address is guessable. Every e-mail address is guessable. And I get e-mails from punters all over the world -- the U.K. and Europe especially. I don't get a lot. I get very few in a week. And I always reply to them. So I'd prefer if people go to our team in the U.S., but if they wrote to me, they would get a courteous reply and I would help.
Before joining Casino City, Vin covered (not all at the same time) sports, politics and elections, wars, technology, celebrities and the Census for USATODAY.com, USA WEEKEND and CNN.