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Four betting shops a DAY are shut down in war on gambling

23rd November, 22:08

More than 1,000 betting shops have closed since April at a rate of four a day, analysis by The Mail on Sunday reveals.

Betfred founder Fred Done last night said bookmakers had been left 'fighting for their lives' by a Government crackdown on addictive betting machines in April - and are being forced to scale back drastically as a result.

New laws to tackle Britain's gambling epidemic slashed the amount punters can bet on fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) from £100 to £2, wiping as much as 60 per cent off betting shop profits.

Number's up: The reduced limit on FOBTs has hit profits

Analysis of company data showed bookies have shuttered 1,017 shops since the April ruling - and they have earmarked 982 more for closure by 2021.

That would mean almost 2,000 of Britain's 8,423 bricks-and mortar outlets closing within a three-year period, changing the face of high streets across the country.

The prospect of culling around one in four betting shops is likely to be welcomed by those who see bookies as a blight on communities. But it would place in jeopardy more than 11,000 jobs, or around 10 per cent of the UK gambling industry's workforce.

Done, 76, said: 'We are fighting for our lives. When Mothercare closed there was lots of sympathy for the people who lost their jobs. But I haven't heard a single politician show sympathy for anyone out of work in the betting industry. We don't matter to the Government.'

Another industry source added: 'The whole high street has to worry when 2,000 units close because when you see boarded-up shops it brings everything else down with it. Whether you're a fan of betting shops or not, they bring footfall to the high street. Once they're gone, they will be missed. It's the biggest ticking timebomb for the retail sector yet.'

The malaise has hit the entire industry, from FTSE250 giant GVC, which owns Ladbrokes Coral, to family-run independents such as Essex-based Jenningsbet, which has closed 13 of its 95 shops and cut 44 jobs since April. It did not rule out further closures, with performance being monitored 'month by month'.

New rules have wiped as much as 60 per cent off betting shop profits

Newly filed accounts for family-run Megabet, based near Newcastle, reveal that it closed 45 of its betting shops in July, after the FOBT crackdown made 'more than half the shop estate loss-making'.

In the same month, Scotland's biggest independent bookmaker, Scotbet, went into receivership, calling the Government's intervention 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. Bosses saved 30 of the firm's 41 betting shops through a pre-pack deal with receivers.

The greatest losses are expected at three of the high street giants. Ladbrokes Coral, William Hill and Betfred are on course to close up to 1,930 shops in total, potentially affecting 11,350 jobs.

FTSE 250-listed William Hill reported a 'significant fall in gaming machine revenues' due to the FOBT crackdown. It has already closed around 700 high street shops.

GVC Holdings, which bought Ladbrokes Coral in a £4billion deal last year, has shut 198 high street shops, and said up to 702 more will close by April 2021. Up to 5,000 jobs are at risk at the Isle of Man-based GVC, which also owns Sportingbet and Bwin.

Betfred - privately owned by billionaire brothers Fred and Peter Done - lobbied the Government hard last year to try to thwart the FOBT crackdown, accusing Ministers of 'playing politics with people's jobs'.

It has shut 50 high street shops since April and Fred Done said last night up to another 280 could close over the next two years, putting 1,850 jobs under threat.

The Government has insisted that FOBTs - known as the 'crack cocaine' of gambling - are a 'social blight', encouraging low-income Britons to lose £1.8billion a year.

But Greg Knight, managing director of Jenningsbet, said the decision to clamp down on FOBTs means gamblers have simply 'migrated to other forms of less well-regulated gambling' such as amusement arcades, known as adult gaming centres. He added: 'Amusement arcades are far less evolved in terms of harm prevention and yet they are now booming.

William Hill reported a 'significant fall in gaming machine revenues' due to FOBT crackdown

'So effectively what you have is betting shops closing and adult gaming centres opening. They are staffed in fewer numbers and are not so stringently regulated, so you have to wonder what has been achieved.'

The crisis has been exacerbated by steep business rates and a 15 per cent tax on bookies' profits from sports betting. Jenningsbet has lobbied the Government to introduce a tax relief system for small and medium-sized retail betting firms, 'similar to the relief given to small breweries'.

'But to no avail,' said Knight.

High street bookmakers have also been hit by the shift to online betting, which now accounts for 39 per cent of Britain's £14.5billion annual gambling revenues.

Paddy Power Betfair, where online sales account for 82 per cent of global revenues, is the only major UK bookmaker that will not close shops.

Parent company Flutter Entertainment is expected to complete a £10billion merger with Canada's The Stars Group next year.

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