There is little doubt that across the UK, the high street that once was the Hub of any local community is slowly fading away. The streets are now littered with the likes of charity shops, coffee shops, discount stores (pound shops) and of course, bookmakers.
As high streets slowly start to dwindle away or at least are reduced in the number of shops on offer, the industries that rely on them, such as the betting industry have suffered as a result.
But, there are a team of campaigners, powered by the Association of British Bookmakers (ABB) who have made it their task to try and save these high street betting shops, launching the Back Your Local Bookie campaign.
What is the campaign?
The campaign has been designed to try and encourage people to use the high street and their betting shops in order to save jobs, careers and even encourage work within the community. They are trying to inform people of the good work that goes on within these shops and admittedly get them to see past their tainted reputation of being a menace to society.
The fact of the matter is that to outsiders the gambling industry as a whole is one that is controversial at best. Many people hear about stories where people have gambled away huge sums of money and some on catastrophic levels. These are the stories that make the headlines and are often the ones that get the most publicity.
But, like everything, there is two sides to every story and this is exactly what this campaign is trying to highlight. Many betting shops are still HUBs of their community, allowing people to come into a safe environment and enjoy – responsibly- their favourite pastime of gambling.
It’s important to understand that whilst the industry does admit that they need to do as much as possible to help people in need, it shouldn’t be as a way of discouraging people who do gamble responsibly. The majority of bookmakers run extensive organisations that actually help people with gambling addictions, of which the high street store is often the figurehead.
It’s also often overlooked that the industry pumps in billions of pounds each year into the economy in the form of tax, jobs and careers for people within the community. The level of people who are working there are sometimes – arguably unfairly – regarded as ‘low-skilled’ labourers, but it means that they are still able to go out an earn money, instead of sitting at home, claiming benefits and being a drain on both government funds and society.
How you can get involved
At the minute the campaign is getting signatures to try and highlight to the government and local residents how important these highs street stores have become. You can simply do your bit by singing the petition to keep these stores alive and give them a voice with any town redevelopments and expansions.
Why get involved?
We’ve already highlighted some of the issues surrounding this and also some reasons why you should be encouraged to get involved.
At the end of the day, peoples livelihoods are at stake here and it’s imperative that people look beyond the multi million pound corporations and more at the everyday folk who are the backbone to the companies success.
At the minute over 43,000 people in the UK are working at high street bookmakers. These numbers, as shops close, look set to fall again and with job losses increase the strain on an already overstretched economy.
But, the betting shops are more than just monetary tools for bookmakers. They are often pillars of a community and places where people of all – legal – age are able to go around the clock. The website includes a number of tributes made by elderly people who see a betting shop as a place that not only gives them some form of interaction on a daily basis, but also the ability to stay mentally sharp.
One example was of an elderly gentleman called Albert Ellis, who at an impressive age of 100 contributes his sharp mind to spending time in the betting shops working out odds for his bet. Albert stated that he doesn’t even gamble much these days, the odd £1 bet on the horses, but likes to go and spend several hours a day, chatting with friends, meeting new people and just generally enjoying life. Without this, he stated that he would be at home, alone with only the TV for company.
The site also has a number of stories about people who have dedicated their life to the industry. John Page has been working for Ladbrokes at their Cheltenham branch for over 30 years and is widely credited with the accolade of almost single handily keeping that store not only alive, but thriving. Examples such as John are very common, with loyal workers often getting overlooked for their dedication and service to this admittedly dying sector of the gambling industry.
Help for addicts
The high street store is one that is often tainted with the fact that only addicts to gambling attract. Whilst this certainly isn’t the case, it is fair to say that these people do exist. The fact that they are in the store allows people who work there the chance to spot this and in turn, offer them help and guidance.
They are real people dealing with real people, which for spotting any sort of addiction is imperative. The high street stores are able to give them guidance of who to talk to and also make sure that they are getting the help they need. Compared to online versions of the bookmaker that do allow you to self exclude, they never have the same follow up and commitment to helping the player, apart from simply banning them from the site. The high street does this and it’s a vital part of getting people the help they desperately need.
At the minute there are around 9,000 high street betting shops a number that has almost halved since the peak of the 70s and 80s. It’s thought that on average around 100 stores close every year and with it, they lose a number of employees and livelihoods.
There is no doubt that the online industry has a role to play in this, with more people now betting online or via mobile than ever before. This trend is only going to continue, but the Back your local bookie campaign, whilst accepting this, merely want to remove the stigma surrounding betting shops and help preserve the hard work that every day people put into running these stores, like any store, and maintain some form of job security.
Unfortunately a lot of the negative stigma surrounding these stores comes from that of Fixed Odds Betting Terminals (FOBTs). These are machines that allows punters to play a range of games within a short period of time. You are able to bet up to £100 per spin and it’s considered to be around 50% of the total gains taken from each high street store.
We have spoken in depth the issues surrounding FOBTs in another article, but the fact that there is such strong support to reduce the limits on these machines from £100 to £2 max per spin has undoubtedly tainted all the good that the high street stores offer.
The thing is, that no matter what the bookmaker does or what betting opportunities they offer, they are going to be criticised. At the end of the day of the responsibility has be shared between the bookmaker to maintain player safety, but also the player. These games are accessible on pretty much all online platforms and a lot of games allow for much larger sums of money to be gambled in a shorter period of time.
Whilst we aren’t staying that the bookmakers are perfect, the Back your local bookie campaign is doing their upmost to highlight all the good that they do and the money they inject into the economy and even local communities.
The help and support for online gambling has never been higher. Bookmakers are constantly promoting to players that they need to bet within their means and as one of the now famous quotes goes “when the fun stops, stop.”
Agencies such as Gamble Aware and Be Gamble Aware have helped thousands of people with addictions to gambling. These support groups are able to target current and potential addicts even before they have a serious problem, helping with their recovery and basically getting their life back on track. They are the Alcoholics Anonymous for the gambling industry, if you will.
The fact of the matter is that a lot of people aren’t even aware they have a problem. This is a common trait of any addict. It requires either the bookmaker or the people close to them to signal this out and then in turn, get them the help that they need.
The fact of the matter is that there is no better people to spot these signs and potential issues than people who work in a bookies and see them on a daily basis. These are the people are able to not only spot when a problem is starting arise, but also the people who are able and most likely to act on their behalf. It’s a vital role that has to be played by the people within the betting shop and the reduction of high street stores wont stop people betting, but it will reduce the number of people that are highlighted as those that need help, something which the Back your local bookie campaign is keen to keep in place.