Ladbrokes owner considers returning £102m of furlough cash

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The chief executive of Ladbrokes-owner Entain has said she is considering returning £102m of furlough money to taxpayers, amid sustained regulatory pressure on the gambling industry.

In her first profile interview since taking over at the helm last year and becoming one of only eight female FTSE 100 bosses, Jette Nygaard-Andersen defended retaining the money.

She said: “The virus is still here. And as it is, although improving, it’s still far from certain how this will play out.”

The cash had allowed the bookmaker to keep its 14,000 staff on full pay, Ms Nygaard-Andersen said.
However, she added: “The board is keeping, and will continue to keep, the situation under review, but it’s just too early.”

This meant it could be returned in months to come: “When I say ‘keeping it under review’, that’s exactly what I mean.”

With the Government expected to set out its plans for a crackdown on betting laws – the biggest in a generation – this spring, Ms Nygaard-Andersen, 52, urged ministers to strike a “healthy balance” to avoid driving gambling underground.
“It is somewhat unfair, the reputation that our industry has,” she said.

Britain’s gambling industry is under pressure at home while attempting to seize the opportunities opened up by an easing of gambling restrictions on sports betting in the US.

Through its joint venture with MGM Resorts, Entain has prospered in America, but lags blue-chip rival Flutter Entertainment – the market leader for sports betting.

Ms Nygaard-Andersen said she “knows what it takes to win” and was confident that Entain could topple Flutter. “The operator with the best products for the customers will also be number one in the market,” she said.

Entain has pledged its commitment to the UK after selecting London for a £100m “innovation lab”. The project will develop software alongside other technology companies for interactive gaming. Entain will inject £40m into the base.
 

Interview: Knowing what it takes to win at the bookmakers

If anyone was going to catch coronavirus, you would think it would be Jette Nygaard-Andersen. “I’m on the road every week; I’m on a new flight,” she says. “But I have managed to stay Covid-free throughout the pandemic. It is quite impressive.” 

Nygaard-Andersen, 52, has just returned home to her native Copenhagen, where she will spend the weekend before heading off to Los Angeles. 

As chief executive of Entain, the FTSE 100 group best known this side of the Atlantic for owning Ladbrokes, Coral and Gala Bingo, the Dane is far from the stereotypical image of a gambling boss. And she insists Entain is no longer a bookmaker: “We’re an entertainment company”. 

Her desire to distance the company from its past is understandable. Previously called GVC, former boss Kenny Alexander ventured into so-called “grey” gambling markets such as Turkey, where betting is largely illegal. 

After two decades in a variety of roles at Swedish media titan MTG, Nygaard-Andersen joined the company’s board as a non-executive in 2019 to spearhead Entain’s “sustainability” strategy. “This was where we set out on a new journey,” she says. 

Her remit was to advise the company on how to retrench from more questionable jurisdictions and broaden the business across “interactive entertainment”. By mid-2020, Alexander had made way for Shay Segev. After just six months at the helm, billionaire Sir Len Blavatnik prised Segev away from Entain with the promise of a payday worth tens of millions of pounds if he could make his dream of turning streaming service DAZN into the “Netflix of sports”.

Before she knew it, Nygaard- Andersen was being offered the top job. “I got a call from Barry [Gibson], our chairman. I was in no doubt that this wasafantastic opportunity.” 

Nygaard-Andersen says she spent the first half of 2021 “listening” to her 24,000-strong workforce. But she could be forgiven for being distracted. 

Segev’s sudden departure came as Las Vegas casino operator MGM Resorts made an £8.1bn takeover bid for Entain. Within days the offer was dropped, though investors were convinced this was far from the end of their interest. 

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