The traditional high street bookmaker used to be a fixture on most of not all of Britain’s town and city centres. But the landscape is changing, and like much of the retail industry, bookmakers are feeling the squeeze. Today we look at some of the reasons why they are struggling, and ask how much technology – and in particular live horse racing online – is to blame.
The stereotypical image of the bookmaker’s shop is a somewhat dingy, smoky room in which old men gather to spend the entire day poring over the form in the Racing Post, placing their bets and watching the races on wall mounted TV screens. In fact that image was pretty much accurate for many years.
But times change.
Introduction Of Live Streaming
These days you’re far more likely to find racing enthusiasts watching via their tablets or smartphones, and almost everybody has access to one. So they don’t need to go to a bookies, because free online streaming services allow them to do exactly that from anywhere. The live horse racing streaming schedule at LiveSport Center shows that every single UK and Irish race is available to watch in this way.
But is this the only reason why high street bookies are struggling? Almost certainly not.
It’s not just access to live horse racing that makes punters move online. It’s also the fact they can get better odds, more markets and more offers by doing so. The reason is obvious – margins. An online business does not have the burden of city centre business rates and rents.
It has far less staff and overheads, and therefore a much healthier profit margin. Some of this can be passed on to the customer, making the product more attractive. In the same way that Amazon is hurting traditional UK high street retailers, online betting sites are hurting high street bookies.
At first, the bookies reacted to this by offering other services. Mainly these were Fixed Odds Betting Terminals or FOBTs, an arcade/casino type machine that allowed customers to bet on computer generated roulette or blackjack. These proved extremely popular and profitable, and certainly made up for the fall in horse racing revenue. But they also proved extremely addictive, and lead to problem gambling.
What followed was regulation, and the UK Government’s imposition of maximum stake levels to protect vulnerable players. There’s no doubting this was the right thing to do, but from the bookie’s perspective is serves to cripple their profit margins and put them right back where they started, unable to compete with their online rivals.
It was predicted by the Financial Times and other media outlets at the time that this legislation would cause many bookies to close.
Some argue that the decline in customer base started in 2007 when the smoking ban was first introduced. Like it or not, many horse racing punters at the time were also smokers – hence the (justified) stereotype of the smoky room. As soon as punters were no longer able to do that, spending the day in the bookies became less attractive, and some began to drift away.
Given that for many people, a day at the bookies was seen as a social event, an opportunity to meet friends with a similar interest in the horses, you can see how this may have spread. Even people who weren’t affected by the ban might stop going if their friends stopped, and so the effect is wider than first perceived.
A Multi Faceted Decline
So as you can see, there are many reasons why the traditional bookmaker is in decline. Part of it is to do with horse racing, which has traditionally been their bread and butter. But there are other factors. Times change as technology changes, and this has been an inevitable constant throughout history.
Live streaming might be the final nail in the coffin, but many others had already been hammered in.