AS WILLIAM Hill announces it is to close 700 betting shops in the UK, putting 4,500 jobs at risk, Dr Gordon Fletcher looks at why the move may have been made and what the impact could be on the High Street.
Dr Gordon Fletcher, retail analyst at the University of Salford Business School, said: "Today's announcement from William Hill that it will be closing 700 of its high street outlets sends out a series of messages. William Hill is the largest betting operator in the UK and 700 outlets represents a third of all their physical outlets and endangers the jobs of a quarter of the current employees. This is a big decision for the company.
"Fewer betting outlets will be seen as a victory by campaigners. Along with charity shops, betting outlets are seen as having a negative impact on the overall experience of the high street and a real deterrent to people visiting. While charity shops have enjoyed a renaissance with greater public awareness of sustainability and recycling, no similar positive uplift can be found in the betting industry. Only six year ago the BBC reported on the high street in Newham where there were 18 betting shops.
"The primary reasons for the closure cited by William Hill are the recent changes to the maximum bet on fixed odds terminals from £100 to £2. This is another victory for campaigners seeking to reduce the harmful effects of gambling on individuals and families. However, the rise of the online gambling industry has to be seen as a more fundamental reason for William Hill fleeing the high street. In this way the company can shed the burden associated with the cost of rent and wages to more dynamically respond to changes and competitors in the sector. It will also have the arguably less desirable side-effect of moving some problem gambling off the high street and into the privacy of the home and onto personal screens."