William Hill's new boss must make the best of a difficult hand

What might work in the favour of Philip Bowcock, who wasn't at the top of the short list, is that expectations are not high. He'll be seen as a winner if he can recover some of the market share the bookie has lost

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When William Hill commenced a search for a chief executive, Philip Bowcock, who had been its finance director for all of six months, was not at the head of the shortlist. 

A couple of months later, the former head bean counter has come up on the rails. He’s clearly a staying chaser. 

Chairman Gareth Davis initially said he was looking outside the company for a gambling industry stalwart and tech guru, with overseas experience as well. Preferably with a pair of wings while we're at it.

That was always going to be a tough ask. So he’s saddled up the horse from the home stable he and his fellow non executive directors feel stands the best chance of winning. 

Mr Bowcock tells me he wants William Hill to “get its mojo back”. It had all the mojo it needed under Ralph Topping, only to lose it when the board appointed James Henderson to succeed him and took too long to realise that was a bad idea. 

Mr Bowcock will be on a rather shorter rein, although he and Mr Davis were bigging each other up upon the announcement of his appointment, as you might expect. The latter is on his way out anyway.

Mr Bowcock says judge him by the numbers he’s produced and the numbers he will produce. 

He’s very hot on social media, as he should be. Customers can now tweet the trading floor and get the odds they want if they’ve a yen for an exotic bet, for example. A bewilderingly complex one of those on Barcelona recently paid out more than £40,000. Long term, Hill’s will be hoping to get a lot more than that back. It’s a fun idea, and Hill’s hasn’t been a lot of fun in recent times. 

More serious is the need for him to get its biggest shareholders on side, and especially hedge fund Parvus which reportedly has its doubts, before the hammer falls on the company from the Government’s review of fixed odds betting terminals. With rumours of a £2 maximum stake, down from £100, and predications of 3,500 betting shops closing as a result, the industry wide outlook is cloudy. 

Maybe it should be. FOBTs weren't once described as the “crack cocaine of the gambling” for nothing. An industry that emerges without the crutch they provide might be a better one. 

What could keep it in place is the Chancellor. The tax revenues FOBTs provide are a crutch he could use too, given the fuss over the national insurance rise to self employed workers that certain right wing newspapers are using to try and destabilise him (check out the Daily Telegraph if you can bear it). 

If it looks like a long shot right now, remember that sometimes they come in. 

In the meantime, Mr Bowcock’s appointment was accompanied by a modest rise in the company’s bombed out share price, and that’s at least something. 

He'll also be aware that bidders aren’t exactly lining up to take the company over, at least not until the Government's decision is known. That's probably not the sort of breathing room he wants.   

Expectations for Hills are not high. That may be his best card in a tough hand. That and the fact that his rivals face similar challenges. If he can just grab back some of the market share Hill’s has lost, and get the technology firing on all cylinders, Mr Bowcock could yet win a race or two. 

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