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More than 4,500 jobs have been put at risk after William Hill announced its decision to close 700 of their high street betting shops. Bookmakers warned that shop closures were likely in the event that the government limited the maximum stake payable on Fixed Odds. Betting Terminals to £2, with it now appearing as though that wasn’t just an idle threat. The plan is to communicate with staff to seek voluntary redundancies initially.
The closures are likely to begin at the end of the year, with William Hill citing the ‘significant fall in gaming machine revenues’ as the predominant reason behind the decision. When the conversation around a stake limit on FOBTs began, British bookmakers looked to shift their focus to online gaming in order to make up for some of the £1.8 billion that would be lost through stakes being limited.
Why the Decision to Close Shops
Fixed Odds Betting Terminals alone contributed around £1.8 billion to bookmakers in 2018, which is part of the reason they have been so heavily criticised. Once referred to as ‘the crack cocaine of gambling’, many feel that the maximum stake of £100 on the machines was far too high and encouraged problem gambling. The fact that bookmakers were allowed up to four machines in each shop certainly didn’t help the matter.
With the number of people affected by problem gambling sitting at around 430,000, the government felt as though it had to do something to curb the influence of the machines on bettors. FOBTs were the third biggest sector, coming behind only online betting and the National Lottery, indicating just how big a business they were for bookies that have high street shops. The essentially pay the rent on the buildings that bookmakers rent.
Given that punters were able to wager £100 every 20 seconds, it’s not hard to see why bookies were keen to load their shops with the machines. With that stake now cut by 98%, however, it’s equally simple to figure out the reason bookmakers, such as William Hill, will be forced to close shops. The bookie has around 2,300 shops across the United Kingdom at the time of writing, employing some 12,500 people.
Voluntary Redundancy or Redeployment
For the 4,500 people or so who will likely lose their current employment as a result of William Hill’s decision, the bookmaker has said that it will initially ask for voluntary redundancies. Once they have been taken into account, the company will look to redeploy others into different areas of the business. Of course, that is unlikely to account for 4,500 jobs, so there will still be a high number of people made unemployed as a result of closures.
A statement from the company said, “The group will look to apply voluntary redundancy and redeployment measures extensively and will be providing support to all colleagues throughout the process.” Quite what support that will be is unclear at this point. What will worry a number of William Hill’s employees is the fact that there is no indication which shops will be closing and won’t be until later in the year.
Staff members in shops that will be closing in the coming weeks were informed of the decision via a re-recorded conference call, which some felt was ‘disrespectful’. Whilst most employees will have expected the Gambling company to initiate some form of closures, the scale that has been spoken of has proven to be a ‘massive shock’. Staff had been assured for months that the would not lose their jobs, which has now proven to be untrue.
The Operations Director at the betting shop workers’ union Community, Tom Blenkinsop, said that the announcement is ‘devastating news’ for the thousands of betting shop workers up and down the country. His hope is that William Hill will engage with the union as quickly as possible so that staff could get both additional support and some advice during the consultation period, saying, “The government also has a role to play”.
This Might Only Be the Start
In March of this year, William Hill produced its annual report. In it, it forecast that the government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake payable on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals from £100 to £2 would like cost the company as much as £100 million a year. As a result, the suggestion was that as many as 900 William Hill high street shops could end up being closed over the next 12 months or so.
We don’t know for certain whether the current closures that William Hill have announced will be the only ones. It’s likely that the company will wait to see how much of an impact a drop of 700 shops will have before then reacting to the market as it stands. The Association of British Bookmakers warned that shop closures would be certain when the stake cut was announced, with other bookies likely to follow William Hill’s lead.