This is a sponsored post by the Association of British Bookmakers.
Betting shops are closing at the rate of more than one a day, as fears grow over the future of the High Street bookmakers, new figures show.
Latest industry statistics from the Gambling Commission reveal 313 betting shops shut for the final time in the ten months from March to December 2017.
It is the fourth year in a row that the number of bookmakers has declined, wiping out more than 1,500 jobs in local communities.
There are now around 8,500 betting shops in the UK, down from 8,914 in March 2016.
The statistics showing a sector in decline come as the Government is considering cutting stakes on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – which research shows could lead to thousands more job losses and shop closures.
Ministers have vowed to cut the maximum stake on the gaming machines from £100 to somewhere between £50 and £2, saying they want to deliver “socially responsible growth and the protection of consumers and the communities they live in”.
But modelling from leading independent auditors shows that the number of betting shops is already set to fall – and that a cut in stakes to £2 would have disastrous effects on jobs and the economy, rather than delivering “socially responsible growth”.
The modelling predicts a cut to £2 would risk a further 4,530 shop closures by 2020, with many premises expected to remain empty on struggling High Streets.
A £2 stake is also predicted to cause 21,917 job losses by the end of the decade – enough to fill Premier League club Watford’s Vicarage Road stadium.
And such a drastic cut would amount to an effective ban on FOBTs which would see £1 billion less going to the Treasury in tax receipts, and a fall of £291 million in funding for horseracing and greyhound racing over the next three years.
This week the British Horseracing Authority warned a cut to £2 “would have unintended consequences to British racing and the wider rural economy”.
The most recent spate of shop closures has already reduced the number of gaming machines by over 1,200.
Malcolm George, Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “These latest figures lay bare the pressures that High Street bookmakers are already under. Cutting stakes on FOBTs to £2 would be a hammer blow to the industry that would destroy thousands of people’s livelihoods and risk perverse unintended consequences for gambling-related harm.”
“If ministers are serious about helping the industry to grow and protecting players, they should avoid a drastic cut and work with bookies on a new package of responsible gambling measures.”
Betting shops already take responsible gambling measures incredibly seriously, and player protection measures on UK machines are the strongest in the world.
These include mandatory responsible gambling alerts, the ability to set time and spend limits, no advertising of machines in shop windows, and a ban on cash machines in shops.
But there is always more to do, and bookies are pioneering new algorithms to prevent risky play on machines as well as piloting new treatment projects for vulnerable customers.