High streets throughout the UK are in decline across the United Kingdom. The majority of shops are moving to shopping places where parking is easy and also have a huge amount of accessibility because of. A lot of brands are forced to shut their doors, and a lot of them have been able to shift online to benefit from the popularity of this market.
The bookmaker industry has been one of the industries that has been hit hard by the dying of the high street off. There was a time that high streets were bustling with a buzz of activity, however, when it comes to bookmakers the bookmakers have been forced to move with the times and take a leap online.
The statistics don’t make for any particularly enjoyable reading. Statistics have been consistently reducing since the 90s and while bookmakers still manage to make a decent return in their shops, the popularity of them is definitely declining. A stigma around the industry and the increase in the number of problem gamblers (or at the very least, the rise in news surrounding them) has certainly had an adverse effect on the way these shops have been portrayed.
The number of betting Shops
At the height of its popularity during the height of the recession, the UK boasted more than 16,000 betting shops throughout the country. They were found in almost every town and city usually with several brands to pick from each. The sites they found were prominent which meant they were typically within the center of the majority of major streets instead of being hidden down side streets and generally away from view.
In 2019, it was reported that this number was reduced to 8,423, which is about half of “glory” year. The problem that they have today is that these figures are decreasing year on year. From 2017 to 2018, the decline was roughly 1.5 percent, which included over 100 stores closing. These numbers are actually pretty stable , given the recent closures that this industry has witnessed.
But, the figures seem to be staggeringly low when compared to the numbers they were. They’ve seen some stability over the last decade or so and it’s been since the year 2018 that the numbers have been declining to a lesser extent. Surprisingly, there are more high-street betting establishments that are open than in 2009, with a peak coming in 2012 seeing that number increase to 9128 by 2012.
Online & Mobile Betting
Let’s talk about the first major change that cut off nearly half of the industry. This was , of course, primarily down to the increase in online and mobile betting. At first, players could place bets from the comfort at home, or even in the field. There was no requirement to place bets in the betting shops and it was possible to do so discretely and almost anonymously if a player wished.
Online betting changed the gambling industry forever and whilst the number of players has increased to a industry that is today worth PS14.4bn each year in the UK as a whole, the negatives of the success was felt by the high streets. You even look at the amount of bookmakers who are located on track at racecourses, which have been experiencing the same decline as the high street due to fewer people attending races and then betting on their smartphones while at the races.
To give you an idea of the popularity of remote gambling, in the year 2019 it was revealed that they saw an upsurge in internet betting of 2.9 percent for the entire year. The market segment for betting via remote is currently 38.8 percent. This number has grown by 6% in just three years. The numbers will keep rising as younger generations that have been brought up with technologies will be able to use remote devices over the high street.
The Rise and Fall of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals
However, there have been periods of stabilisation in the market for high street bookmakers and this can be observed in the fact that they increased the number of betting outlets in 2011 and 2012. The most important reason for this were FOBT (Fixed Odds Betting Terminals).
These machines are basically mini-casinos and include games such as Roulette or Blackjack. They let punters bet huge amounts of money quickly, and then lose large sums of money rapidly. These machines became massive Cash cows to betting stores, and are one of the main reasons why many betting establishments maintained their doors.
However, however, the Gambling Commission ordered that the number of machines per shop be restricted to just 4 in order to avoid them becoming more of a gambling hall rather than a betting establishment. This was initially a negative impact on the bookmakers in terms of their revenues, which were now reduced.
The workaround came about as a result of opening up additional stores with more FOBTs in operation. Although bookmakers will never reveal that they were opening new stores for these machines, those who were in the know were well aware that they were doing this. That’s why it’s not common to find two or more bookmakers belonging to the same manufacturer in the same street, in order to make sure there were more machines in operation.
As is often the case that all good things have to end at some point and this is exactly what happened with FOBTs. It was discovered that the Gambling Commission researched that these machines were one of the main causes of problem gambling in the UK which continued to grow after the introduction of video-based casino games.
Bookies opening times can be viewed online.
To combat this, maximum bet limits of PS2 were added to these machines in order to prevent losing too much money too fast. The initial change was made in 2018 and it’s a no coincidence that because the amount that machines are now able to make is limited and betting shops have started to decrease. Actually, 2018 , and 2019, have seen the biggest decrease in betting shops over the last 10 years. It appears like this trend will persist, albeit at a slower pace than what many experts had anticipated after the new law was passed.
There are four big names that have remained active in the market till date. These include William Hill, Ladbrokes, Coral and Betfred. Note this: Ladbrokes and Coral are part of the same group, but they still operate shops under their original brand names. So keep this in mind with any information relating to them mentioned in this post.
The number of shops which are owned by each has changed quite a bit in the past decade or so. However, it’s been interesting to observe that not all of them are declining. In fact, Betfred have more than twice the number of high-street betting shops in 2018 that they had in 2009. The numbers have increased from 806 up to 1667 betting stores and they’re likely to increase their numbers in the coming years.
Ladbrokes Coral Group
They were able to strike an agreement with the Ladbrokes Coral Group in 2017 after they were required to dispose of a large portion of their betting stores in the course of the merger in order to meet the demands of competition within the UK. It added 322 betting stores overall. This is evident from the statement they issued shortly after the purchases , they are planning to make this number increase, which it has.
This is quite different from the practices of Coral or Ladbrokes however, who have been steadily culling the stores they have even following the merger and the sale of 322 stores to Betfred. Ladbrokes have shut down an additional 60 shops since the sale with Coral shuttering more than 100. Whilst they still have the largest combined betting shop footprint, having around 3,500 stores across the UK and Ireland, it is expected that they will reduce their number as their selling continues.
William Hill have remained very stable. They have the biggest number of independent betting shops with 298 shops total in the year the year of 2018. The number was as high as 2,345 in 2013 but it has never been as low as 2,238 in 2009. The numbers appear to be very robust and are a good sign for William Hill and they are likely going to hold firm in the future, mostly because the size of the business allows them to operate certain stores at break-even while still being worth their while for branding purposes.
Other Brands Notable to Mention
In addition, there are “other” bookmakers, that include the likes of Paddy Power, Totesport and Jennings Bet, along with plenty of independent brands. These guys have been hardest hit, and from a high of 1,607 stores in 2012, they now have just 1079 with their numbers failing quickly. It will be extremely hard for them to compete moving forward especially since the smaller ones don’t be online.
Betting Shop Distribution
The northern-south divide is one that is very evident in the distribution of betting shops in the UK. There is a huge rise in shops in northern cities and towns as compared to the southern towns.
In actuality, only one town to the south of Leeds (Aylesbury) makes it in the top 10 towns that have the highest percentage of population by betting shops. The top spot on the list is that of Grimsby where there is a betting shop per 6,721 inhabitants. Grimsby surpassed the likes of Darlington, South Shields and Huddersfield in order to get the “crown”. The top 10 players are as below:
The 10 towns with the Top Ten Towns with the Most Betting Shops per Capita
The towns with the least amount of betting shops per capita include the likes of Oxford (lowest with one shop for every 11,398 residents), Ilford, Hayes, Southend-On-Sea and Luton. It is notable that only Rochdale can be considered Northern town on this list, which further highlights the northern-south divide further.
Top 10 Towns that have the Most betting shops per capita
The sad reality of the matter is that the betting shops are targeting the lowest income areas , which are always performing better than affluent areas of the UK. Lower income people are more likely to place bets, even though , in reality, they’ve much less disposable income than the majority of people.
Future of Betting Shops
The numbers don’t look good for the high street. The betting industry is shifting online, and whilst there are still many betting shops in the moment, the future does not look great. Many think that the limitations of FOBTs will have the industry begin to totally collapse and this could be the case. But early signs from the machines’ limitations haven’t been as dire as initially thought, which offers the betting shop chance of success.
Also, Boylesports announced in March 2019 that they were making their way back to UK to begin their first venture as a major street bookmaker, initially buying their indepedant bookmaker Wilf Gilbert, and acquiring their 13 stores , but stating that this is only the start, with around 100 stores expected to start operating within the next 12 months.
What’s interesting about the Boylesports situation is that they’ve not operated FOBTs in any of their betting stores in Ireland because they’re prohibited in Ireland. They also claim that they do not plan to include them in their UK stores, and also highlight how lucrative the high street remains.
We are expecting that more independent bookies will slowly fall out, however. This is the reason why we have experienced the biggest growth over the last decade or so, and we expect that this trend will continue. For the most established brands they’ll probably condense what they have right in the moment and then evaluate it when the dust settles on the limitations to the FOBTs.