The latest statistics released by the Gambling Commission for the year ending March 2010 show a drop in the overall number of betting shops in the UK and in particular the number of shops operated by independent bookmakers .
The report shows that the big five operators , Ladbrokes , William Hill , Coral , Betfred and the Tote account for over 80% of all betting shops with over 7 322 outlets out of a total of 8862 as at 31st March 2010 .
William Hill with 2 263 shops was the largest operator of the big five whilst the Government owned Tote which is currently “For Sale” operated 516 shops .
Whilst overall numbers fell only slightly the drop in the number of independent owned shops was dramatic with a 6% fall during the period from 1600 shops to 1500 . Independent bookies have faced severe cost pressures principally from higher costs of regulation(Gambling Commission and local authorities) and significantly higher costs for displaying live racing . Independent bookmakers are disadvantaged by having to pay much more per shop for live pictures and licences than their bigger rivals . The number of independent shops will fall further during the current year as an increasing number of outlets become uneconomic and leases are not renewed . North -east independent Pagebet collapsed in May 2010 and around 20 of the chain’s 55 shops were closed as a result .
Whilst Pagebet’s collapse was untypical and largely due to management failings and over enthusiastic , inexperienced private equity partners there can be no doubt that the sector is going through a very difficult period .
The Gambling Commission figures show an overall drop in Over The Counter turnover of 4% during the year and a fall in Over The Counter gross profit of 10% .
The only good news for the sector is that the profits from gaming machines continue to increase and a £207M (19%) increase in the yield from gaming machines was recorded during the year .
For most operators the increase in revenue from gaming machines is sufficient to compensate for the decline in traditional OTC business .
The independent sector however typically derives a much lower percentage of their revenue from machines and it is difficult to see what factors can stop the decline in the number of independent operators who are also suffering from a general drift of younger customers in particular placing more of their betting spend online .