Bookies are the only winners


The Financial Times today paints a bleak picture of the UK high street where pubs, estate agents and recruitment consultants are on the decrease and boarded-up premises and betting shops are on the increase.

According to data compiled by Ordnance Survey (OS), the national mapping agency, the only category to see a significant rise was betting shops, the number of which increased 5 per cent between October 2008 and December 2010, although pound shops, pawnbrokers and supermarket convenience stores are all seeking cheap deals on the nation’s emptying high streets.

Two of the worst affected towns are Margate and Rotherham, where nearly one in three shops lies vacant.

The Financial Times points out that  the rise of betting shops is driven by the popularity of fixed-odds betting terminals. As only four terminals are allowed per shop, some bookmaking chains have taken two shops on opposite sides of the same street. William Hill underlined the importance to its profits of fixed-odds betting terminals in its shops, reporting a double-digit rise in machine income in 2010, write Roger Blitz and Damian Wilkinson.

In 2009, each machine contributed £758 in gross win, the amount bookmakers retain after paying out winnings. Last year, that rose to £847. However, that did not offset a 1 per cent fall in over-the-counter net revenues, William Hill said in a trading update on Tuesday.

According to the Gambling Commission, machines are providing operators with an increasing share of their shops’ gross gambling yield. While over-the-counter yield has fallen from £1.8bn in 2008-09 to £1.6bn in 2009-10, machine yield has risen from £1.1bn to £1.3bn.

Bookmakers must follow guidelines on the use of machines that require them to ensure that betting is the primary gambling activity of their shops.

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