The furlough accounts have been published and betting firms are near the top of the list for some of the highest claims. 

Ladbrokes claimed £102 million from the scheme, for 2,845 premises across the UK and the Betfred group claimed between £45 million and £65 million according to HMRC with its 1,500 stores.

 

Biggest claims

The biggest claims were made from businesses linked to leisure and hospitality who would have lost revenue, through customers not being able to come in through the door.

The FTSE 100-listed gaming firm Entain is Ladbroke’s parent company and managed the lockdown with online gaming. 

Last April’s The Grand National last April was recorded as the largest biggest online sports betting event in the country. According to the BBC Entain’s 2020 revenues were £3.6 billion, which was the same as the previous year. Between January and September, its revenues grew and it recorded a profit of £114 million.

Entain is also well placed to benefit from the explosive growth of online betting in the US through its BetMGM joint venture.

In a statement, Entain said the money protected 14,000 jobs, and is “under review.”

The company is legally entitled to collect the funds if their operations had been affected by coronavirus, according to HMRC’s website.

Betfred Group saw a £100 million loss of turnover in 2020, but its profits were up to £205 million.  

A Betfred spokesman said: “Thanks to the Government’s Job Retention Scheme we have not had to make a single redundancy due to the pandemic and we will continue to invest in our shops on the high street.”

 

Furlough returns

William Hill, another bookmaker, which employs 7,000 people in the UK returned £24.5 million from its furlough claims in August 2020 as it said its post-lockdown recovery was strong. 

The company said the furlough money was useful in protecting those jobs but it wanted to return the funds as its profits had risen.

However, the firm also announced it planned to shut more than 100 stores as it wanted to expand in the US and it found there were fewer people betting in person. In a statement at the time, it said: “We anticipate that longer term retail footfall will not return to pre-COVID levels and 119 shops will remain closed following early lease breaks, with the majority of colleagues redeployed within the estate.”

More than £215 million was voluntarily returned to the government by employers in other industries and reports suggest the owners of betting company Paddy Power did not use the furlough scheme.

Estimates suggest around £68 billion was claimed on the furlough scheme since it started but officials believe only a fraction of that was paid in error or to unscrupulous claimants.

Under the scheme employers could claim 80 percent of their workers’ salary up to £2500 at the start; if placed on furlough workers were not allowed to work or earn money for the business. They were allowed however, to go on holiday and earn holiday pay.