adbrokes owner Entain claimed between 12.5 million and 30 million pounds ($41.2 M) in December and January in furlough cash, amid a surge in online betting revenues.
The HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) disclosures were reported by The Guardian, which said that Entain received the money to pay 14,000 staff who were furloughed at about 3,000 of its high street shops that were forced to close as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.
The company's full-year accounts, published last month, showed that the financial impact of the closures was offset by a £500 million increase in online revenue during 2020. Entain ended the year with revenues unchanged at £3.6 billion, recording a profit of £113.8 million. Its share price ended 2020 up more than 40%, as investors welcomed promising signs for online gambling and the company made strong gains in the fast-growing, newly regulated US market.
The company also spent money on lobbying efforts while claiming furlough support, according to The Guardian. In January 2021, a month for which Entain received between £10 million and £25 million of taxpayers’ funds to pay staff, the company hired political consultancy firm CT Group. It helped Entain set up a consumer group called Players Panel, which it said represented the voices of ordinary gamblers. The group publishes comments from Entain customers who say they are concerned at the prospect of draconian regulation arising from an ongoing review of gambling laws that could crimp industry profits.
While Entain kept its furlough support, William Hill made the decision in August last year to pay it back, thanks to a “strong recovery” as live sports resumed and its shops were allowed to open again. “In light of this positive trading environment, the board feel it is appropriate to repay the furlough funds received, amounting to £24.5m, and we will not be claiming the job retention bonus.” High street bookmakers have had to close again since then due to the national lockdown.
A number of other companies that have performed well financially during the pandemic have also returned furlough support. They include Ikea, Serco and the housebuilders Redrow, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey.
In a statement, Entain said: “The furlough scheme has been a sensible and highly welcome policy intervention that helped us, as one of the country’s largest retailers, to maintain the livelihoods of more than 14,000 retail colleagues on full pay. Whilst the virus is still with us and the outlook, although improving, is still far from certain, the board will continue to keep the situation under review.”
Entain is not the only major gambling company to claim furlough despite a significant online presence. Done Brothers (Cash Betting), part of the billionaire Done brothers’ Betfred empire, claimed between £6m and £12.5m over December and January.