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The Bookmakers – from the High Street to Online

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Is this the beginning of the end for the high street bookmaker?

Not long ago it was almost unimaginable to consider placing a bet online. A smoke filled room in a tight, cramp, badly lit shop on an unwelcome looking back street was the typical destination for anyone who fancied placing a wager. There’s no doubt the bookies have upgraded both their online and retail offering in the last decade, however the pendulum looks set to swing further away from the physical retail side towards the online format in the upcoming years. Recent announcements from some of the biggest operators signal a trend towards betting shop closures amid increasing taxes, regulation and the rise of online gambling.

The Gambling Act 2005, machine games duty, and the rise of online gambling!

The Gambling Act 2005 is probably the most important piece of government legislation concerning the gambling industry and has had a major impact on the perception of gambling in Britain. The Gambling Act 2005 shifted the focus away from negative undertones towards gambling. In the period since the Act, gambling has become widely accepted in the mainstream as a legitimate leisure activity. In the main this has been welcomed, however one particular less attractive impact was the proliferation of bookmaker’s on the UK’s high street. The rush for market share for more and more stores from the likes of Coral, William Hill, Ladbrokes and Paddy Power in the period through to 2013/2014 has seen a consistent rise in bookmaker store numbers in the years since the 2005 Act. One consequence of the 2005 Act was that this allowed bookies to open new shops, without consideration of the proximity to another bookmaker – this had a very positive effect on the presence of bookmaker’s on the UK high street. Bookmakers were able to take up better placed store units on the high street as the recession took hold in the period from 2008, at a time when many traditional retail occupiers scaled back their operations.


The change in market conditions had the consequence of many bookmakers choosing to consolidate their retail offering. Instead of having 2 or 3 satellite store units in outlying locations, they tended to prefer one main store in a better positioned location. That trend in shop closures is now well under way with the likes of William Hill (who have around 2,300 shops), Ladbrokes and Coral all recently announcing significant shop closures. The reasons for this are largely down to three main reasons; changes to the planning system, increasing taxes on gambling machines and the rise of online gambling. For example you used to be able to turn a bank, estates agents, or any other use deemed an A2 use under of the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 into a bookies. Since April 2015, bookmakers are now classified as Sui Generis use which means planning permission is required in most circumstances to utilise your average high street shop for the purpose of a bookmakers. This is an extra regulatory burden and added cost which has (and will) no doubt deter operators from opening new stores.

A further significant deterrent also came from the government imposing a 25% tax on gambling machines last year. Together with the planning changes and increasing media right costs has meant many shops are no longer viable. This has resulted in the recent shop closures, announcement of more closures in the future, and also the curtailing of new shop openings. These changes have also been partly exacerbated by a generation who are more comfortable betting from their laptop, smartphone, or ipad, and interested in a different betting experience on the move that a physical store cannot offer. The liberalisation of the gambling regulations in 2005 has been positive in terms of choice and availability for your average gambling consumer, with more betting operators, greater choice in terms of where, when and how to bet online. However the UK online sports betting market is dominated by five main operators. The combined market share of William Hill, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power, bet365 and Betfair totals 56% according to Mintel. The concentration will likely become less so as time goes on and customers realise the options that are now available. There is a vast and ever growing array of choice available to an online customer today, with sites specialising in specific subsections of betting (such sports betting, casino, poker, games, bingo), bet types, and ways to bet.

Why bet online as opposed to in store?

So if the high street bookmakers are on the wane, where should you place your bets instead? In Howtobet4free’s view the online offers numerous advantages over placing a bet in store. Firstly you can do it whenever and wherever you want as long as you have a decent internet connection. Secondly the range of betting opportunities through an online operator is far more comprehensive with different bet types, sports and ways to bet. Furthermore being online allows easier and greater comparison of odds, operators, free bets and existing betting offers. There are times when certain online bookmakers will be offering enhanced odds, money back specials or referral offers which make betting with one operator more attractive, and vice versa with other operators. Like many aspects of modern life, the internet has revolutionised the bookmaking industry. Increased competition has improved choice, customer service and the overall experience for the customer. Howtobet4free are under no illusions which way the industry is heading with the surge of online operations. Howtobet4free remain focused on providing you with the very best information, guides, help, tools and free bet offers to ensure you are kept informed throughout this period of transition. Don’t bet without us!     


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Francois is one of Howtobet4free’s co-founders and has written many of Howtobet4free’s popular Betting Guides. Francois also helps run the @howtobet4free_ Twitter account

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Comments & Feedback

Posted by bloomflower on
Very interesting article. Certainly be interested to see how the bookmakers store formats plays out over the next few years. I don't see the appeal of the store format given the choice online.
Posted by Spurs565 on
I don't know why anyone would go into bookmaker! Usually the odds are so poor compared to those offered online. William Hill odds are particularly bad in store.
Posted by Arsenal4you on
Some good points, although I think the physical shop bookmaker will be around for some time to come. Many bookmakers are located in areas where bookmakers are part of the community in a small shopping parade, and people either don't have access to the internet or prefer the face to face contact.
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