The internet is a truly disruptive technology. If you’re old enough to remember a time before it existed, you’ll also remember how different day to day life was. If you met someone interesting on holiday, you’d have to make a genuine effort to stay in touch with them, if you wanted to buy a new wardrobe for summer, you’d take a trip to a shopping centre in town, if you wanted to place a bet on the weekend’s big game, you’d head to a high street bookmakers and fill in a betting slip with one of those funny little pens. Essentially, the world was a very different place. Nowadays, you can order practically anything from the comfort of your own home. You can book the trip of a lifetime, you can catch up with relatives in far away counties, and you can even order your entire weeks’ worth of shopping from a supermarket’s website. The internet has had a huge impact on the typical UK high-street. Where once were local grocery shops, travel agencies, sports shops, and electronics suppliers, now are empty units that were unable to compete with the much lower overheads of online merchants. Curiously, however, one type of high-street shop has managed to stay afloat in these transformative times – the betting shop. Whilst not exactly thriving, their numbers have remained consistent at around 9,000 for the past few years. This is despite the online gambling sector expanding to cover around a third of the entire gambling industry. This figure is also expected to grow. So, why is this? It seems counter intuitive that a sector of an industry that is losing so much of its total market to other areas can maintain such a high-street presence. Let’s take a closer look… Bookmakers survive whilst others die One of the first industries to make the leap to cyber space was the betting industry. It made perfect sense for them to do so as well. The overheads of renting an entire shop that housed a single or double booth with a bookmaker taking bets in could be stripped down if the process could be done from the comfort of the punter’s home. That would give maximum freedom to the gambler (they can place bets at whatever time of the day or night they want) and would hugely reduce the overheads for the bookmakers themselves. Bookmakers' shops serve as loss leaders The gambling industry in the UK is hugely competitive. Think about the number of different sportsbooks and casinos that exist. The first five you thought of probably have some sort of high-street presence. This is no coincidence. Whilst precise figures are hard to come by, the likes of William Hill, Coral, Ladbrokes, and Paddy Power are by no means struggling. These giants of the industry have successfully launched online platforms to complement their brick-and-mortar shops. Think about it, if you’re going to take you first go at placing a bet or playing roulette online, are you going to chance some unknown internet casino or are you going to go with a company that has a real-life shop less than a mile from your front door? We’re dealing with people’s money here, so the answer is obvious. People like familiarity. If the worst-case scenario happened and you somehow lost some money through the fault of the casino, it’s nice to know that you can march down town and give the company an earful. Of course, once you’ve played a bit online, you realise that all the casinos that are offered to you in the UK are legit and totally licensed. However, by then, it’s often too late. People are creatures of habit and prefer to stick with what they know. They’d much rather have a punt on their local team using the service that they’ve already signed up for and that they can deposit and withdraw from with the click of a button. Since the largest online casinos are in direct competition with each other, many see the betting shops as marketing. The nice thing about this is that unlike putting an advert on TV or in a newspaper, the high-street billboard is there all the time and actually generates some revenue. It doesn’t even matter if it operates at a slight loss to them. The cost of a few shops is well worth it to keep their company in the “household name” category of online casinos and bookmakers.
The social element? As well as being great marketing tools for online bookmakers and casinos, the brick-and-mortar betting shops that are on just about every high-street in the country also serve as social hubs for some folk. Whereas some just prefer to play online, others can’t imagine a weekend without some time spent at the bookies. It’s these people that offset the price of using an entire shop to advertise a brand in the way that casino companies do. For them, a Saturday afternoon wouldn’t be the same if they stayed at home with the ITV Horseracing on and a laptop. It’s all part of the ritual for them. Heading down to the bookies, meeting the regulars, filling in the slip and watching the results come in live. The can also take any prize money they might make straight down to the local and buy the lads a few celebratory pints if they happen to back a big winner.
Fixed odds betting terminals Another feature of betting shops that keeps them afloat when the rest of the traditional high-street companies are sinking is the fixed odds betting terminals they offer. Many people love going into a bookmaker’s shop and taking a few spins of a roulette wheel on their lunch hour or between boozers on a Saturday afternoon. Whilst the experience is much the same as it is online, there remains a die-hard group of loyal players who enjoy the bravado of dropping a big win when they’re out and about with the lads on a weekend. Perhaps they popped in to the bookmakers on the way down to the pub to watch the match, stuck a tenner on United to beat City and put twenty quid in the roulette machine. To the casual observer, the experience doesn’t look any different to that of playing and betting online. However, to some of the UK public, these rituals are still deeply ingrained.
Conclusion When you consider the power of high-street marketing, it’s obvious why betting shops seem to fair much better than other companies do in the towns up and down the UK. Almost every single brand has an online presence these days. These massive companies use the shops as billboards that have the added advantage of earning back some of the marketing budget. In such a competitive industry, few are willing to give up the real estate for fear that a competitor will move in and weaken their brand’s appeal. After all, using an online bookmaker relies on trust. It’s a lot easier to trust something you can see, touch, and visit than it is something that exists solely online.