The crackdown in the U.K. on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) is taking its toll, with gambling shops across the country “fighting for their lives.” According to a report by The Mail on November 24, over 1,000 gambling shops have been forced to close their doors since April 2019, equating to four closures per day. The unprecedented number of closures coincides with the implementation of lower stakes by the government on FOBT machines, with no relief in sight. At the current rate, around 2,000 locations could be shut down, and their employees out of jobs, within three years – right when the U.K. is dealing with pressure over Brexit.
U.K. lawmakers are doing everything they can to make gambling less attractive, including introducing stricter advertising and sponsorship laws and keeping tighter controls on gambling operators. FOBTs saw their limits reduced from £100 to £2 ($128 to $2.57) as one of these measures, cutting out 60% of the shops’ profits at the same time. This has resulted in 1.017 locations deciding to close since April and another 982 have acknowledged that they will most likely shut down, as well, by 2021.
That would leave around 6,420 shops if all the projected locations were to close. While the anti-gambling space will jump and down with joy, the 11,000 employees without work certainly won’t. Fred Done, the founder of Betfred, states, “We are fighting for our lives. When Mothercare closed there was lots of sympathy for the people who lost their jobs. But I haven’t heard a single politician show sympathy for anyone out of work in the betting industry. We don’t matter to the Government.”
Large or small, companies of all sizes are being forced to re-evaluate their future plans. Ladbrokes Coral has closed 198 locations since April and plans on closing another 702. Betfred has closed 70 and could close as many as 500. All of the operators are looking at the numbers each month to determine whether additional measures are warranted.
Scotbet, once Scotland’s largest independent bookmaker, is in receivership. It couldn’t weather the storm and, by July, was forced to throw in the towel, with the U.K. government’s new FOBT rules being “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” Fortunately, at least for now, 30 of the company’s 41 locations are still operational through a deal worked out with Scotbet receivers.
There is already evidence that the crackdown didn’t have the overall impact lawmakers had expected. Jenningsbet managing director Greg Knight explains that gamblers “migrated to other forms of less well-regulated gambling’ such as amusement arcades, known as adult gaming centres,” adding, “Amusement arcades are far less evolved in terms of harm prevention and yet they are now booming. So, effectively what you have is betting shops closing and adult gaming centres opening. They are staffed in fewer numbers and are not so stringently regulated, so you have to wonder what has been achieved.”