'Up to 3,000 betting shops to close'

Fixed-odds betting terminal Image copyright Alamy

William Hill's decision to close 700 shops could just be the beginning of a wave of High Street betting shop closures, an analyst has warned.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 bookies could close out of the UK's 8,400 shops, analyst Gavin Kelleher told the BBC.

William Hill blamed the closures on the UK government's decision to reduce the maximum stake on fixed-odds betting terminals from £100 to £2.

The stakes were reduced to help vulnerable people and problem gamblers.

"I think we will definitely see more closures. GVC, which owns the Ladbrokes and Coral brand, have said they will close up to 1,000 stores," Mr Kelleher, who is an equity analyst at Goodbody Stockbrokers, told the Today programme.

"You are also likely to see stores close elsewhere in the market from independents and potentially from Betfred so I think all told we'll probably see over 2,000 to 3,000 shops close in the UK, which is a significant chunk of the 8,400 shops that currently reside in the UK."

Mr Kelleher said revenue growth had been flat at High Street betting shops for the past five or six years, so the stake reduction had been a "tipping point".

"The £2 stake is the main issue behind those closures to be honest," he said.

Although gambling machines are a controversial issue, he adds that "there is an economic impact here" with more than 50,000 people employed in retail betting in the UK.

He said that the sector pays a "significant amount of tax and duty", and added that the sector also pays duty to horse racing.

"You could say that retail betting is a key support for the UK horse-racing industry, which accounts for [the employment of] about 100,000 people in the UK," Mr Kelleher said.

'Enormous problems'

Business Minister Jake Berry told the Today programme that he was "sorry for all the people who work in William Hill who'll be worried about their jobs", but he said fixed odds betting terminals "have been described as the crack cocaine of gambling".

"I think we've done the right thing," he said. "Those fixed odds betting terminals were causing enormous problems for some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society."

He added that fewer betting shops would make for a more diverse High Street.

"They can't all be hot food takeaways, charity shops, and bookmakers. We want to see a diverse and vibrant High Street."

The government launched a High Streets task force on Friday to advise local authorities trying to revitalise town centres as part of plans announced in the Budget.

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