Betting shops have been an institution throughout the United Kingdom for decades. However, they’re now facing the threat of extinction.
The UK already reduced the maximum betting limit from £100 to £2 at these shops. Now, the country’s Gambling Commission has banned the use of credit cards at betting businesses.
This ban makes an already bad situation even worse. I’ll discuss more on this recent move along with if betting shops can even hope to survive.
What Is the Betting Shop Credit Card Ban About?
The UK Gambling Commission (UKGC) has been exploring various ways to curb problem betting in the country. Its officials have met with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss options.
In April 2020, the UKGC chose to restrict gamblers from using credit cards to cover bets. This move was primarily in response to the recent uptick in online gambling.
However, it also extends to offline gambling as well. Those wishing to get funds at betting shops through their credit cards will no longer able to do so.
According to the UKGC’s research, the country features around 10.5 million online gamblers. 800,000 of these same people fund their accounts with credit cards.
No such statistics exist for land-based bettors. However, it’s very likely that a notable portion of those gambling in betting shops also use credit cards.
Why Did UK Politicians Ban Credit Cards?
The restriction on credit-card wagering isn’t in direct response to betting shops. Instead, it’s designed to curb the recent large spike in online gambling.
Neil McArthur, chief executive of the UKGC, believes that banning credit-card payments protects consumers.
“It’s a ban which ultimately reduces the risks of harm to consumers from gambling with money they do not have,” says McArthur. “The ban also comes at a vital time as we are seeing an increase in the use of some online products, such as online slots and virtual sports.
“Our online search analysis shows an increase in UK consumer interest in gambling products since the lockdown began. This highlights just how important it is for gambling operators to keep people safe, and the credit card ban will help that.”
The ban covers betting shops as well as online casinos, poker sites, and sportsbooks. It doesn’t, however, extend to “good cause” lottery tickets.
The good cause aspect refers to when lottery tickets are purchased along with supermarket or retail items.
Betting Shops Were Already Hurt By Maximum Bet Restrictions
The UKGC has good intentions with its ban on credit cards. However, it may also be putting more betting shops out of business.
After all, the UKGC severely reduced maximum bets for fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in 2019. It lowered the maximum wager from £100 to £2—a 50% reduction.
Betting shops get their names from accepting sports wagers. However, they only collect around a 5% profit (“vig”) from each bet.
They rely on FOBTs for approximately 50% of their revenue. An FOBT is a machine that offers roulette, blackjack, slots, or another game.
Previously, players could bet between £0.05 and £100 per round. Now, they can only risk between £0.05 and £2.
Of course, many people are low-stakes gamblers by nature. But betting shops now miss the high rollers who are willing to wager £5 or more every round.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport also played a role in this decision. It produced a study showing that high-stakes FOBT play increases the chances of problem gambling.
Many British politicians have also taken aim at these terminals. Some lawmakers refer to FOBTs as the “crack cocaine” of gaming.
These feelings persist among many Parliament members. Additional studies and horror stories of gambling addicts caused the move to reduce maximum stakes by 50%.
A Huge Hit to the Betting Industry
The gambling industry certainly didn’t take the reduction of FOBT stakes lying down. In fact, some of the biggest chains have already noted that they’ll be closing around 700 of their 2,300 shops within the next few years.
William Hill, for example, noted that it will be shutting down hundreds of shops throughout the country. It will also be forced to lay off a sizable number of its 12,500 employees in the aftermath.
The Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) notes that many more businesses will be affected by the lower FOBT stakes. It forecasts 4,000 betting shops closing and 21,000 lost jobs due to the smaller max bets alone.
“The independent expert advice warned that this would simply shift people,” the ABB states. “The majority of whom gamble responsibly, to alternative forms of gambling where there is less chance of human interaction and its impact on problem gambling levels is far from certain.”
The numbers don’t even reflect the recent ban on credit cards. The latter comes at a really bad time when considering that FOBT stakes were cut just last year.
Gamblers not being able to pay with credit cards may not have as drastic of an impact as the betting limits. However, this move will no doubt hit bookmakers from another angle.
Some betting shops are barely hanging on by a thread due to the stakes reductions. They could be pushed over the edge by the restrictions on card payments.
Should the UKGC Have Waited?
Again, the UKGC chose to prevent online and offline credit-card payments due to recent events. The online gambling rush made the Gambling Commission feel like it had to act concerning the matter.
However, the UKGC should’ve considered not extending this ban to betting shops. These shops can only accept FOBT bets worth up to £2.
Meanwhile, UK online gambling sites can still take wagers worth up to £100. They’re only being affected by the credit-card issue.
All of this is bad timing for bookmaking shops. They’ve now been hit with both a drastic reduction in FOBT stakes and card ban in back-to-back years.
Of course, the UKGC needs to do what it thinks is right when protecting problem gamblers. The fallout, though, is that more shops and jobs will disappear as a result.
Can Betting Shops Survive?
For years, betting shops enjoyed widespread growth and big profits. However, the industry is now dealing with more challenges than ever.
Bookmakers were facing a saturation problem even before FOBT bets were lowered and card payments were banned.
The UK features 9,000 betting shops across Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Given the country’s population of 66.65 million, one shop exists for every 7,400 residents.
This amount doesn’t seem outrageous when considering the UK’s passion for betting. However, it might be too much when considering that the country also offers a legal online gambling market.
Now, these shops must also deal with new changes. The lower max bets on FOBTs has caused the biggest negative impact.
Bookmakers fought tooth and nail to prevent this change from happening. They lost and will now be closing some businesses up as a result.
Of course, some shops will resolve to make it through these trying times. Jenningsbet, for example, noted that the industry can spend more time getting back to its roots.
FOBTs have moved gambling shops more and more away from bookmaking—particularly the racing side. Jenningsbet reps noted that shops can now get back to maintaining a “more collaborative and healthy relationship with horse and greyhound racing.”
Paddy Power Betfair believes that gambling addiction has given bookmaking a bad image. The company thinks that recent restrictions could, at the very least, improve betting’s reputation.
UK bookmakers were already facing enough challenges, including saturation and lower FOBT bets. Now, they must deal with a credit-card ban on top of everything else.
The UKGC chose to ban online and offline gambling payments by credit cards. Their intended target is internet gambling due to the higher amount of online wagering.
However, betting shops are also feeling the brunt of this decision. They now must navigate through a ban on card payments on top of lower maximum FOBT stakes.
Some shops won’t survive another hit to the industry. Those that do, though, will at least enjoy a less-saturated market.
Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016. ...
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