Over the course of the past decade, the sight of the betting shop has become ubiquitous on the British high street. However, cities across the UK will soon look very different, given the record level of closures and planned closures of betting shops up and down the country. Some major betting companies are planning to close hundreds of locations within the space of a few months, while some estimates state that around four betting shops are closing every single day in the UK.
While the reasons for the closures are complex and multifaceted, it’s clear that on the surface at least, the betting industry appears to be one in crisis. Many have quickly drawn conclusions that the rapid rate of closures are due to a decrease in the popularity of betting. Others have highlighted the recent government decision to place strict limits on the popular fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), limiting stakes to only £2 a pop.
These factors would seem to suggest that betting and gambling in the UK is on the wane. However, the numbers seem to show that the opposite is the case. While land-based betting activities may inevitably be on the decline, other forms of betting are more popular than ever. Much like industries such as retail and dining, gambling has simply moved much of its business online as a result of changing consumer habits.
The online casino and betting industry in the UK is mammoth, being worth an estimated £5.3 billion in 2019. What’s more, the digital betting sector has experienced double-digit growth in the UK over the past few years, fuelled in part by increasingly sophisticated online platforms that provide users with immersive betting experiences.
One of the key drivers of the renewed popularity of online betting is the advent of live streaming technologies, which allows gamblers to play blackjack and roulette against a real-life casino dealer via a live video feed. With betting fans being able to experience gambling that is almost like the real thing from the comfort of their living rooms, or even from their mobile devices, it’s no wonder that high street betting shops are struggling.
With Manchester alone hosting hundreds of betting shops that employ thousands of people, there are emerging concerns over whether the internet is contributing to a further hollowing out of the high street. Of course, many people consider betting chains to be an unwelcome addition to city centres, taking up spaces that would be better served by independent businesses.
One thing that seems certain is that the departure of so many betting shops will certainly leave a hole in the high street. What matters is if or when something will come along to fill the gaps, and whether it will be the kind of industry that people want to see on their doorsteps. For now, we can add betting and gambling to the long list of things that have been completely revolutionized by digital technology and the internet.