Fred, and Peter Done, co-founders and owners of Betfred, have been operating in the gambling sector for over 50 years now, and remain hungry to grow their business despite their estimated joint fortune of £1.2 billion. The brothers come from humble beginnings in post-WW2 Salford, sharing a room with two siblings in a poor neighbourhood, and they helped their father operate his gambling business before off-course was legalised following the Betting and Gaming Act 1960.
Their calculated risk-taking over the decades – starting with a successful bet on England winning the World Cup in 1966 that helped capitalise the Betfred business has led to a portfolio of over 1,300 betting shops in the United Kingdom and Ireland, a vibrant on-line gambling platform , a US sports betting exchange introduced last year after legalisation of gambling in the States in 2018, together with a clutch of other profitable businesses.
According to WhichBookie the Done brothers are now poised to pocket just under £200 million, following the recently agreed £2.9 billion sale of their William Hill rivals to US entertainment giant, Caesars Entertainment Inc. Fred, 77-years old, and Peter Done, 73-years old, had cannily invested in William Hills shares over the past two years and increased their stake at least three times in 2020, doubling their shareholding to 6% since March. The brothers showed immense confidence in the gambling sector, despite the severe commercial hit of the coronavirus pandemic on Betfred and its rivals, and scented an opportunity to make a big bundle of cash as investor businesses circled William Hill as potential suitors.
Apollo Global Management Inc. and Caesars were both in the running but the William Hill Board accepted the Caesars’ offer, in part driven by the existing commercial relationship between the two companies – the two companies have a joint venture whereby William Hill’s sports betting applications and odds feature on US cable channel ESPN. Indeed Caesars already own 20% of William Hill’s US operation, which has exclusive rights to use the Caesar’s brand, and the impetus for the bid is Hill’s US bookmaking business, operated from 170 retail sites in 13 states. Naturally, the interest shown by both Apollo and Caesars caused the share price to soar, with a 600% rise since March, and the Done brothers have made a killing as a result.
But this may not be the end of the matter for the Done family as Caesars has made it clear that William Hill’s 1,400 UK betting shops are surplus to requirements, saying that their aim is to “seek suitable partners or owners”. Betfred has now expressed interest in the shops, keen to complete a successful purchase to double its retail business. However, it is believed that William Hill’s CEO Ulrik Bengtsson may be planning a buy-out of the UK operations and a number of private equity companies are also considering their options.
The UK gambling sector has had a bumpy ride in recent years with increased pressure from Parliament and the Gambling Commission to protect vulnerable gamblers. Fred Done was critical of the Government’s decision in 2018 to limit the maximum wager on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOTBs) in betting shops, from £100 to £2. However, canny operators in the sector – and we include Betfred in this category – have continued to deliver profits and the Done brothers were able to reward themselves with dividends of £10.2 million after reporting operating profits of nearly £75 million for the year ended September 2019.
In fact, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates that Fred and Peter Done have enjoyed some £100 million of dividends from their business holdings in the past five years. The sale of William Hill will boost the brothers’ fortunes considerably and provide extra work for the family office set up in 2019 with the aim of establishing their own investment firm. The brothers rarely comment on their business dealings but a couple of years ago Fred Done did say “I’m in many businesses now, but bookmaking is still my first love. Fixing the odds, I enjoy it.” Mr Done’s passion transmutes into tangible business rewards and we congratulate him and his brother, Peter, on their success.