It is notable how resilient the number of betting shops in the UK has been since 2004, in spite of rising costs, and the ever-increasing burden of regulation. But now the decline is quite sharp and is likely to continue when the furlough scheme ends, and life resumes to some normality.
At the same time, online gambling has been growing. Growth has accelerated in recent times due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with people under lockdown and retail outlets being closed.
Bookmakers are a resilient bunch, the industry demands it. They are innovative because they must be. With rising costs, new products were sought, hence the introduction of FOBTs, which were not illegal. The restriction on stakes has made them worthless, causing an acceleration in the decline in the number of shops.
What is the likely outcome going to be?
• More shops will close.
• Horserace funding has reached the point of diminished returns. The higher prices for media and levy will be met with fewer operators to pay those prices.
• Job have been lost, not to be replaced.
• The targeting of online operators by the authorities is driving gamblers to find unlicensed websites that provide the service and staking limits they require. There are 248 gambling websites that accept cryptocurrencies. Many are not licensed at all.
The UK’s shopping streets are a sorry sight. I walked down my local main street and saw the closed stores of Sir Philip Green, the owner of Arcadia. Gone was Monsoon, Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Wallis, and Outfit Retail. With fewer places to go and shop, the high street becomes less attractive for people to go to, a further negative for the nation’s betting shops.
So, while some are cheering the decline of betting shops, spare a thought for the thousands of jobless staff, the landlords who will not receive any rent, the horseracing industry that will have to close racecourses, and the local governments who will not collect property rates. HM Treasury will also collect less tax.
The media and politicians should really think things through before they start campaigning.
By Warwick Bartlett