Have high street bookies lost the fight against online?

Online Betting

The betting industry has undergone significant changes over the last quarter of a century, with advancements in technology transforming how people place bets.

Up to the mid-1990s, high street bookmakers enjoyed a monopoly on offering odds and markets across a handful of different sports.

Fast forward to today and there are tons of online sites offering all sorts of bet types at the touch of a button covering greyhound betting, horse racing and dozens of other sports.

The rise in online sports betting is perfectly demonstrated by the global market size, which was valued at more than $76 billion at the end of last year.

With double-digit percentage increases forecast over the next few years, high street bookies undoubtedly face an extremely uncertain future.

The decline in the number of betting shops in the UK in recent years highlights how difficult it is for businesses of that nature to stay afloat.

There were 9,067 premises open in 2011, and the tally stayed above the nine thousand mark for the next three years.

However, they declined year-on year thereafter, dipping to 7,681 high street premises by the end of 2020.

Retail analysts PwC UK reported a net closure of a further 1,063 outlets in 2021, although the number has slowed down significantly during the current year.

Changes in consumer habits powered by digital technologies have been cited as the primary driver behind the shift from betting on the high street to wagering online.

Tighter legal restrictions have been another contributory factor, particularly with regards to the rules governing how Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs) operated.

FOBTs have been blamed for an increase in problem gambling, with the previous maximum stake of £100 per game having the potential to cause major issues for players.

The government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport cut the maximum stake to £2 in 2018, creating a financial black hole that many bookies have been unable to fill.

While some of the bigger brands have successfully adapted their business models to embrace the shift towards online betting, many smaller operators have fallen by the wayside.

It would be fair to say that not every betting firm has transitioned effectively onto digital platforms, with some operators offering an underwhelming wagering experience.

They will need to up their game over the next few years or run the risk of being left behind by the companies that have the resources to leverage digital technology effectively.

With online betting sites offering a greater level of convenience than their high street counterparts, it is difficult to see how the latter will be able to compete in the future.

As digital devices such as smartphones become increasingly sophisticated, it will naturally follow that the online sports betting experience will improve event further.

The rollout of 5G Wi-Fi connectivity will also benefit online operators, creating another unwelcome headache for high street bookies to contend with.

The sportsbook model in the United States could be a source of inspiration for UK operators considering how they can compete with online sites.

Venues offering secondary services such as food and drink which also have sportsbook terminals are slowly becoming commonplace in the US.

By switching to a similar model that incorporates more touchscreen terminals, high street bookies in the UK could give themselves a fighting chance of avoiding closure.

Appealing to a younger demographic is another tactic high street firms must embrace if they want to keep their heads above water.

High street betting shops often get a bad rap for being soulless and unwelcoming, which makes them a big turn-off for the younger generation.

Some UK betting brands have explored the possibility of forging greater links with the e-Sports sector, which could be an idea worth further investigation.

High street bookies could host competitions with prize money up for grabs and would come with the added bonus that people watching could wager on the action as it unfolds.

Whether that would be enough to convert them into becoming consistent visitors to the betting shop is debatable, but the proposal undoubtedly has some merit.

Adapting the current mode of operation will be crucial in determining whether high street bookies can retain a place in the modern betting landscape.

Online wagering is here to stay, so land-based operators must find innovative ways to successfully coexist alongside this digital phenomenon.

It is probably too early to write off high street bookies just yet, but their future does look perilous unless they come up with some new ideas.