The gambling industry is one of the most profitable in the UK. Whether it be sports betting, casinos or iGaming, 2020 was another great year. However, one area of the industry where the outlook is gloomy is brick and mortar bookmakers. These shops have long been a staple of the high street but this is changing, and this process is only going to accelerate in the future.
Why is it that in-person betting is experiencing such a downturn? In this article we will detail what has happened in the past few years as well as analysing whether there is a chance of high street bookmakers making a comeback.
High street bookmakers closing at an alarming rate
Over the past decade the downturn in high street bookmakers has been dramatic. Gambling shops are not the only stores that have been affected by this decline either. Across the board, the UK high street has been on its last legs for some years. Thanks mainly to a lack of footfall due to the rise in internet shopping, more and more companies are focusing on providing a digital retail experience.
This overall decline of the high street has combined with factors specific to the industry to cause the downturn in brick-and-mortar betting shops. One of the key turning points was the government’s increased regulation of fixed-odds betting terminals in 2018, which gambling companies claim led to a marked decrease in their profitability. Shortly after the regulations, William Hill warned that it would lead to their high street shops closing down and so it has proved.
Merging and restructuring
Another key reason for the future of high street bookmakers being uncertain is the increased grip that the ‘Big Four’ gambling companies hold over the industry. Together Bet365, Flutter Entertainment, GVC Holdings and William Hill operated the overwhelming majority of high street bookmakers.
In recent years, the ‘Big Four’ have either bought or priced out smaller betting companies, meaning there are now only a handful of independent bookmakers left on the high street. These bigger companies are less inclined to run these unprofitable shops due to having no particular connection to the high street.
Despite retail losses the biggest betting companies continue to grow in other sectors, with the Big Four instead focusing on their digital offering. This has sped up the closing of many high street betting outlets and means that more job losses and store closures could follow in the coming years.
Coronavirus has affected high street bookmakers
While the downturn of high bookmakers has been a long-term process, it is impossible to ignore the role that the ongoing coronavirus crisis has played more recently. Back in March, the government forced all UK shops to close down. Since then, they have not been permitted to reopen for more than a few months at a time. This has exacerbated the existing trend and decreased the big companies’ faith in high street stores even more. In short, a recovery for the humble, brick and mortar betting shop looks extremely unlikely.