Do UK closings signal the end of in-person betting retail?

Do UK closings signal the end of in-person betting retail?

Earlier this month, news broke about the widespread closure of in-person betting outlets in the UK. Specifically, William Hill alone may shut down 700 shops - a portion of the quarter of all UK betting shops expected to close their doors.

This could result in the loss of 12,000 jobs, which represents a larger issue for the British workforce and economy. However, it also raises questions about the future of in-person betting retail. Namely, can globally this industry’s bricks and mortar side survive into the 2020s in any meaningful capacity? 

Clearly, one of the main issues for in-person betting retail is the increasing availability of online gambling options. These options exist far and wide, are presented by virtually every mainstream operator, and offer variety, convenience, and betting options that you can’t always find at a live sportsbook or betting shop.

For instance, a lot of online bookmakers now offer “live” or “in-play” betting, which allows customers to wager on certain types of outcomes during sports matches, rather than just before them. Additionally, offers for free bets are available through a growing number of online providers, providing perks that bettors don’t often find in person, and which further incentivise online activity. (When you can have a deposit matched online, or enjoy a free wager of a given amount, it’s hard to find a reason to trudge out to the nearest bricks and mortar bookie!)

To some extent this is included or assumed in the overarching point about online betting’s takeover, but it should also be mentioned that apps are making a major impact. It would be one thing if the above-listed perks were simply available through browser-based online betting. But the fact that customers can enjoy the same perks through online providers’ mobile tools only makes it all more convenient and more appealing. 

We should note as well that these tech-based betting options aren’t just among the reasons for locations shutting down in the UK. They may also be preventing similar businesses from opening in the first place where gambling activity is expanding. The primary example here is the United States, where betting laws have gotten less restrictive and there’s currently significant momentum toward a large-scale gambling industry. In America, there has been talk of a sports bets on every corner already, and it can seem at first like there’s potential for new chains of shops to open up throughout the country.

Looking into things more closely though, it appears that what in-person activity there is may come about through existing venues (such as sports bars that could offer new betting services) as opposed to new retail shops. Furthermore, it’s a virtual guarantee that the majority of US betting activity will take place online and on apps. 

All in all, these trends and developments do paint the picture of an industry that’s trending toward a wholly digital state of operation. That doesn’t mean each and every betting shop will close, nor that venues like sports bars or casinos won’t continue to offer gambling activity. But between UK shutdowns, expanding digital opportunity, and the look of new markets, it does appear that betting-specific retail shops could be on their way out. 

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