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UPDATE 1-William Hill annual revenue down on sports cancellations, COVID-19 curbs

(Adds CEO comment, details on sales and deal)

Jan 13 (Reuters) - British bookmaker William Hill, which is set to be taken over by U.S. casino operator Caesars Entertainment, posted a drop in annual revenue on Wednesday as COVID-19 lockdowns and sports events cancellations hurt its business.

The company said total net revenue declined 16% to 1.32 billion pounds ($1.81 billion) for the year ended Dec. 29.

However, fourth-quarter revenue rose 9%, while gross win margins benefited from favourable sporting results.

“2020 was a year like no other... The offer received for the Group recognises the substantial progress we have made as well as the opportunities and challenges ahead of us,” Chief Executive Officer Ulrik Bengtsson said.

Caesars last year agreed to buy the company for 2.9 billion pounds, beating out private equity group Apollo, with the deal expected to complete in the second-quarter of 2021 or as early as March.

U.S. companies have been seeking out partnerships to tap European expertise, as the country is widely viewed as the next big growth market following a 2018 Supreme Court ruling that lifted a ban on sports betting.

MGM Resorts International earlier this month approached Ladbrokes owner Entain for an $11 billion takeover, which the British firm rejected for being too low.

William Hill said online revenue rose for its UK and international businesses, but its retail business posted a full-year loss of around 30 million pounds.

“When open, with no restrictions, retail traded well and profitably. At the end of the third quarter retail was on course for a breakeven outcome for the full year. However, the Covid-19 related restrictions experienced during the fourth quarter impacted all our 1,414 shops at some point,” the company said.

The company also said it had repaid 24.5 million pounds of furlough funds it received in the first-half and does not expect to claim any further job retention related support.

$1 = 0.7308 pounds Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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