The Truth Behind UK Bookmaker Shop Closures

December 18, 2019

- Grant Whittington

Land-based sports betting activities across Britain have taken a hard hit over the past few months, and countless high street betting shops have closed their doors since summer. Thousands more of these once-popular shops are expected to shut down in the months to come as well. Most recently, major bookmakers like Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill and Betfred have announced their intentions to close dozens of their land-based retail outlets over the course of the next few quarters.

It’s no secret that prominent bookmakers have blamed stricter regulations and the recent slash in Fixed Odds Betting Terminal (FOBT) stakes for their land-based revenue declines. It was earlier this year when the UK government decided to reduce the machines’ stakes from £100 to just £2 per round in a bid to address soaring problem gambling rates.

Interestingly, however, the worrisome declines in retail revenues can actually be attributed to a very different trend altogether. Although reduced FOBT stakes have undoubtedly played a role, the drop in physical operations can largely be attributed to a massive rise in online betting and gambling service demand.

A Move To Closure

Earlier in 2019, Britain’s largest bookmakers revealed that they were planning to close many of their betting shops – a move which they blamed on the local government’s decision to implement strict FOBT restrictions. In April, the new laws that cut the maximum bets accepted by the controversial gambling machines were implemented following a drawn out anti-gambling campaign in the nation.

It was later reported in July that William Hill was planning to close a hefty 700 high street betting shops. GVC Holdings, the owners of Ladbrokes Coral, warned that it was looking at closing 900 of its own shops, saying that they would not be financially viable to run following the tighter FOBT regulations. Betfred, another prominent UK bookie with a notable brick and mortar presence, estimated that it would have to close over 500 shops to stay afloat.

Additionally, the operators announced that considerable lay-offs of staff could be anticipated too. According to their estimations, roughly a quarter of all British betting shops could face closure, resulting in the loss of over 12,000 jobs. William Hill has since closed its 2 shops in Lincoln, calling them ‘uneconomic’ to operate. The firm also admitted to using alternative methods such as voluntary employee redundancy to reduce its work force.

Gambling Industry Still Thriving

The situation may seem dire for UK bookies, but there are still many betting shops operating across Britain. In fact, the local gambling sector does not seem to be facing a decline at all. The latest statistics from the industry actually reveal an opposite trend; the iGaming sector is worth over £5.3bn in 2019, constituting nearly 40% of Britain’s entire gambling industry.

Statistics published by the UK Gambling Commission this year show that land-based gambling is still the second-largest market by Gross Gambling Yield, worth £3.2bn. The sector is still stable, although the number of shops has decreased to 8,320 this year. In a nutshell, the UK gambling industry has seen only a minor decline of 0.3% compared to the same quarter of 2018. Furthermore, digital gambling forms will likely increase even more in popularity thanks to the constant improvement of iGaming technologies.

Local bookies are now introducing highly advanced mobile technology, live casino games hosted by real dealers, and even live streamed sports events on wagering platforms. Today’s bettors can place in-play bets on virtually any sports they can think of. It is for this reason that it’s hardly surprising that iGaming is quickly replacing traditional brick and mortar betting shops

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