Fred Done, the Betfred chief and William Hill shareholder, has given an interesting interview over how betting shops on the UK high street can be improved.
This Covid-led ‘pause’ could be the perfect time to consider the future of betting shops – the challenges to them that the technological revolution (and mobile punting) has brought and how bums can be put back on seats.
The downfall of the betting shop is not a complete disaster – after all, much of the money has moved online – but they are still an important presence for an older generation that isn’t tech savvy, or simply has no inclination to download bookmakers’ apps and so on.
For some older people living alone, the truth is that the interactions in betting shops might be the only ones they have all day.
Done himself offered a stark warning to betting firms for whom their high street presence remains a key string to their bow.
“If we carry on as we are now, I think we’ll go the same way as the dinosaurs and betting shops will die,” he said. “We need to attract more young people. The average age of betting shop punters is 50-plus. When those people drop off the perch, they aren’t being replaced.”
But what can be done to attract a younger audience into betting shops?
The American Dream
It really does depend on how much betting firms are willing to invest in a revenue stream that is ageing badly.
If they are going to keep high street betting alive, one of the options they would have in some of their flagship big city shops is to follow the American model.
The sportsbooks in the United States are stunning buildings, complete with big screens and an ambience that is nearer to a bustling bar than a slightly musty-smelling retail unit.
That wouldn’t work in villages and small towns, of course, but you take a big city betting shop, start selling food and drink to enhance the amount of time people are spending on the premises, and surely turnover would increase as a natural consequence while making the humble betting shop relevant again?
Cough Up for Sky Sports
Back in 2016, Done broke the mould when he forked out for a Sky Sports subscription for all of his Betfred shops.
The expense would have been astronomical – any pub landlord can attest to that – but the move acted as something of a loss leader for the firm with greater footfall and pre-match and in-play betting as a result.
With more and more pubs dropping their Sky Sports subscription – increasingly so in a post-Covid world – there could be an opportunity for betting shops to offer the chance to see the big match to punters who don’t have access at home.
Remove All Non-Sports Betting
There was a big hoo-hah when the government cut the maximum stake on FOBT machines to £2 back in 2019.
A considerable revenue stream was taken away from betting shops, all told, and that led to redundancies and shop closures.
Most firms still carry FOBT machines and they remain incredibly popular, but the profitability of them has taken a hit and you do wonder if they are a necessary feature for betting shops at all?
FOBTs also attract a different type of punter to classic sports bettors, and you wonder if the occasionally aggressive atmosphere in shops would be dissipated if the machines were no longer a source of unmitigated anger for many – Derek Webb, of the Campaign for Fairer Gambling, called betting shops with FOBTs ‘the most violent and dangerous gambling venues in the world.’
Embrace Gaming and E-Sports
It feels like e-sports betting is on the precipice of being huge.
Tens of millions is already being wagered on the various tournaments, and clearly the bulk of this money is flowing in from a younger customer base.
Done even floated the idea of two e-sports bettors coming into a shop and wagering against one another, with the bookie essentially acting as a go-between (and taking a cut, of course). “I definitely think it’s worth throwing a few million at some pilot schemes and seeing where we get,” he said.
The feeling is that the ePremier League, which sees gamers represent a professional club in the competition, could be a very interesting proposition for sports betting in the future, and it will be interesting to see which bookies jump on board with it.