Betting shops ranked highest among all applicants looking to convert vacant UK retail space to other uses in 2013, according to figures released this week by Estates Gazette. A total of 1.7m square feet was converted from retail shopping to other uses last year, 61% higher than in 2012. While betting firms topped all comers in terms of applications granted (106), gyms accounted for 40% of the total space converted.
Local councils approved almost 80% of betting shop applications, but those numbers reveal a definite geographic divide. In the northeast part of the country, councils approved all 11 applications they received, while just 40% of such applications in London were approved. The bookies’ high street market share hit 9% in 2013, more than double the figure in 2008, right around the time when the global economy melted down and retailers began hanging out their ‘everything must go’ signs. Over that same time frame, Ladbrokes has gone from the nation’s 126th most acquisitive retailer all the way up to fourth. Paddy Power, Coral and William Hill also improved their rankings.
The news will only embolden critics who say recent zoning law changes have tied the hands of local councils and who seek to give councils more authority in preventing new betting shops from opening. But bookies are only filling a void that other retailers appear unwilling or unable to remedy, so what’s the alternative?
Presumably the same furor will greet the opening of a new Stanleybet shop in the company’s home base of Liverpool. Stanleybet sold off its 624 retail shops to William Hill in 2005, choosing to focus its efforts both online and on its 2k shops located across Europe. But the company has now chosen to “reintroduce the Stanleybet name to the UK” via the opening of a shop in North John Street, adjacent to the Cavern Club, the venue made famous by four mop-topped lads back in the early 1960s.
Stanleybet COO John Whittaker told the Liverpool Echo that the company had made the city its home since 1977, “so we’re getting back to the heart of our own streets.” However, the shop will import some of the flavor of its international outlets by putting a strong emphasis on Italian, German and Spanish football betting. Whittaker said the company didn’t intend to restore its UK presence to its former status, looking instead to “develop a relatively small chain of quality outlets … Once we establish the Stanleybet brand again, opportunities will arise and we will be ready to take advantage.”