Is Land Based Retail Betting Property Still Relevant?
In 1960, the Betting and Gaming Act made it legal to accept cash bets on sports events, either in person or through the post, and paved the way for an entirely new legal sector of the UK economy.
For 40 years, the betting shop was a familiar part of UK life, but in the 21st century, dramatic changes to the industry and to wider society have led to a decline in betting shops. The betting industry has moved online and some UK online bookies have dispensed with the idea of the betting shop altogether, leading to a mix of online-only, retail shop-only and dual platform betting services.
So, is the betting shop in terminal decline? Or are there still advantages in betting operators running retail betting premises?
The Rise and Fall of the Betting Shop
By the end of 1961, six months after betting shops became legal, there were around 10,000 of them in the UK. That number peaked at 14,760 in 1971. Since then, however, there has been a steady decline.
Some of this was due to big-name bookmakers buying up smaller chains and streamlining their property portfolios. This started with in 1960s, but has continued up to the present day, with the emergence of giant betting corporations resulting in an ever declining number of betting shops. By 2013, there were 9,111. Nine years later, that figure had fallen by 31% as the greater emphasis on internet betting, along with multiple betting company mergers took effect.
The decline was slowed to an extent by the expansion of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops, but these controversial machines were targeted by government action in 2018, slashing the maximum stake to £2, which resulted in another wave of betting shop closures.
The value of a betting shop has, not surprisingly, declined dramatically.
Disadvantages of Retail Betting Shops
In an era when as much as 80% of gambling activity is done online, the disadvantages of a betting company maintaining a base of retail shops are obvious:
- Limited betting hours
- Rental and other property servicing costs
- Security concerns
- Extra staffing resource
Yet while the disadvantages are obvious, the situation is not as clear cut as you might think.
Advantages of Retail Betting Shops
While the overall trend has been away from retail betting shops, there are some mixed signals across the UK. Boylesports, for example, has expanded its retail betting base and there are new developments, discussed in the next section, that offer intriguing possibilities. The advantages of owning and operating retail betting shops are less obvious but still tangible.
Online betting is a lonely business and both older sports bettors and younger bettors used to online collaboration and socialising in other spheres, are still drawn to the social element, which cannot be replicated outside of retail betting premises.
Betting shops also allow betting operators to more easily fulfil their player protection requirements, whereas identifying and preventing online problem gambling is a lot tougher.
Finally, maintaining a retail betting shop presence in the UK, particularly at a time when many betting companies are headquartered overseas, enables operators to point to a commitment to the local economy, through employment, local procurement and payment of local property taxes.
The Future of Retail Betting Shops
The arrival of a new form of staff-less betting shop, pioneered by BetXS in Ireland, provides an interesting variation. These shops would enable betting companies to offer a more social and less isolated betting experience, with longer opening hours, but without many of the overheads of running fully staffed old-fashioned betting premises.
It is likely that the number of retail betting premises in the UK will continue to dwindle over the rest of the decade, but the rate of decline may slow, as betting operators weigh up the competitive advantages of providing a social, technologically advanced form of retail betting. It seems that the retail betting shop, in the UK at least, isn’t going away any time soon.