Staff at tombola are facing “the very real possibility of job cuts” after Europe’s biggest online bingo website announced plans to scale back its customer experience team, customer support personnel and safeplay advisers.
Despite being one of the most high profile and popular online bingo brands in the UK and one most people could name, the potential job cuts were perhaps unavoidable once the outcome of being reviewed as an acquired business is revealed.
Two years ago tombola was bought out by Flutter, which also owns Paddy Power and Sky Bet, who made assurances at the time of the acquisition that jobs at tombola’s Sunderland HQ would be safe.
Tombola, which was founded in 2006 by Phil Cronin and has been based in the northeast of England ever since, was purchased for £402 million in late 2021 and became part of Flutter’s UK and Ireland division.
Match made in heaven
At the time, tombola’s head office told the Sunderland Echo:
“We are committed to running tombola as a distinct company within the UK and Ireland division. We are not in the business of making any changes.”
An operational review completed during 2023 preceded an announcement in October that job cuts would be likely as part of staff retrenchment focussed on the firm’s 250-strong customer experience team.
In a statement, tombola said: “We have communicated a number of proposed changes to our customer service teams following an extensive operational review.
“As a result, a number of colleagues will now take part in a formal consultation process that will include significant opportunities for redeployment within the business, but will also unfortunately lead to a number of redundancies.
It was widely reported that the shake-up is part of Flutter’s drive for increased efficiency and remove duplication within the business, which given the current trading climate, particularly in the gaming world, makes sense – no business can stand still and two years is a long time.
In 2022, tombola posted a pre-tax profit of £25 million ($30.41m US) following sales of £117 million ($142.36m US).
Tombola’s statement continued: “Tombola is a progressive and widely recognised leader in customer protection, which include max stakes of £2 for all our online bingo and arcade games.
“We are also deeply proud of our role as a key employer in the North East and Sunderland, with plans to continue investing in the region in the future.”
The tombola legacy
The news will come as a blow to people in Sunderland, with workers based at the company’s Wylam Wharf headquarters on the banks of the River Wear set to be affected along with those who work from home.
Tombola, which sponsor’s ITV’s I’m a Celebrity, and more recently the Deal or No Deal reboot with Stephen Mulhern, boasts more than 400,000 players and has more than 700 staff.
Tombola’s founder Phil Cronin made his first forays into the online bingo business in 1999, after studying at Durham University and Harvard Business School. His father Frank had printed bingo tickets in the 1960s, and Phil continued the family’s bingo tradition by building tombola into a vastly successful business.
Speaking to the House of Lords in 2019, Phil Cronin said: “I was first involved with bingo working for my father’s printing company, making bingo blowing machines with ping pong balls inside. I have spent my whole career involved with bingo.”
At the time of tombola’s takeover in 2021, Flutter chief executive Peter Jackson said: “Tombola is a business we have long admired for its product expertise, highly recreational customer base and focus on sustainable play.
“The brand aligns closely with Flutter’s safer gambling strategy, a key area of focus for us.”
It is fair to say that the tombola brand has been enlivened since the takeover and is bigger and brighter than ever, with new licensing deals and partnerships and new games being revealed all the time.