It’s the kind of news that anyone with an interest in the art of bookmaking dreads: William Hill have announced that more than 700 of their high street betting shops are being forced to close in a company reshuffle.
More than 4,000 jobs are at risk, and it’s another blow for a industry that has taken something of a kicking in the past year or so.
The move is an obvious knock-on effect to the changes in FOBT regulation that cam earlier in 2019, where the government decided to reduce the maximum stake on the Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2.
It was a decision that was met with positivity by safer gambling campaigners, with many expecting to see the damage caused to problem gamblers reduced as a consequence.
Betting firm bosses spoke of the likely consequences of the stake cut, and these William Hill closures are the first sign of what could be a catalogue of implications for the industry.
In a statement published on the William Hill website, the firm wrote:
“William Hill has entered into a consultation process with retail colleagues over plans to close around 700 licensed betting offices.
“This follows the Government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 gaming products to £2 on 1 April 2019. Since then the company has seen a significant fall in gaming machine revenues, in line with the guidance given when the Government’s decision was announced in May 2018.
“A large number of redundancies is anticipated with 4,500 colleagues at risk.”
A spokesperson for the firm has also confirmed that the shop closures, which will come at the end of the consultation process, are likely to take place before the end of the year.
“The group will look to apply voluntary redundancy and redeployment measures extensively, and will be providing support to all colleagues throughout the process,” they said.
William Hill have not confirmed which shops are in trouble, although they have informed relevant staff about the decision they have taken.
Crackdown Comes with a Human Cost
If you have frequented a high street betting shop – William Hill or otherwise – you re probably already familiar with the FOBTs.
These are the gaming machines that you see in store, where typically young men gather to bet on simulated action such as roulette, blackjack, virtual sports and more.
The maximum stake amount was cut following an investigation from the government, who concluded that susceptible gamblers were able to lose too much money, too quickly with the old £100 stake level.
It led to them being termed the ‘crack cocaine of gambling’ by campaigners, who wanted either a stake cut implemented or for the machines to be removed from the shop floor altogether.
Previous estimates from William Hill revealed that in some of their shops, particularly inner city and urban areas, the FOBTs were accountable for more than 50% of their daily revenue.
The closures were always going to hit the band, and the industry, hard, and in their annual accounts William Hill had stated that the stake cut would cost them ‘approximately £70-£100m’ a year, with harsh predictions suggesting that 900 shops in total are in jeopardy.
The natural side effect is redundancies, which goes to show that when you ‘solve’ one problem you often go on to create another.