Once as ubiquitous on the British high street as charity shops, pubs and newsagents, the high street bookmaker is slowly but surely on the decline. Peaking in the 1970s and 1980s, when as many as 16,000 graced Britain’s pavements, there is now just over half that number, with as many as 400 closing every year.
Far from being a case of Britain falling out of love with gambling, revenue has never been higher – £12bn in 2016 (up £1bn from the previous period), so what is causing the decline of the high street bookie?
While gambling is on the increase, the methods by which British people are gambling have changed radically in the last decade. Just as the high street bookie was born from a change in habits in the 1960s, when a relaxation of gambling laws let them move from the horse races to the high street, so the bookie is disappearing thanks to online gambling.
The early 2000s saw many betting companies open online versions of their shops to supplement their income from the high street shops, but by 2016 the online gambling sector was worth over £4.5bn – more than £1bn more than the high street sector – and had overtaken all others to be the largest sector by value .
One result of this has been to squeeze independent bookmakers, who can’t afford as extensive internet options as the large chains, causing them to die at a much faster rate. Some estimates place the figure at just 200 individual shops, from highs of 1,350 in the mid-90s .
Thanks to better technology, faster internet speeds and the ubiquity of smart devices such as phones and tablets, the larger chains have been able to take advantage of the online gambling boom like never before. A whole sector was born over the last decade, from whole gambling empires to the industries that rely on them – including tipsters such as Betting Gods.
Without the cost of a bricksand-mortar shop, and effectively no limit on how many customers they could serve, the high street model was soon left in the dust by the Internet alternative.
Higher rents in town centres began to take their toll, with costs becoming unsustainable, and unfriendly local councils taking the opportunity to pass legislation making it difficult to sustain a bookmaking operation on major conurbations – forcing bookies away from the centre and the majority of their customers.
Going from a fringe add-on to the main event in just over 10 years, the internet can promise what high street bookies can’t: Nearly infinite variety, without queues, and without having to leave your house. All without the cost of a premises or staff.
The decline of the high street bookmaker is a clear symptom of a business model that is simply past its sell-by date, a phenomenon that is also claiming bank branches, as the people familiar with the high street bookie dwindle and are replaced with an internet-savvy generation who have only gambled online.
Thanks to the convenience and security of online gambling, as well as the greater range of games and options, many gamblers simply see no need to set foot in a high street bookie when they have one on their phone.
With an internet offering that is only going to grow and increase its sophistication, and a high street business model that is only going to become less profitable and less affordable, it is hard to see a situation other than the eventual end of the high street bookmaker as we know it.