One million betting industry staff and customers have signed a petition urging the Government not to take further punitive action against Britain’s high street betting industry.
The petition was hand-delivered to 10 Downing Street by shop staff, who also carried a giant betting slip emblazoned with the message: “Don’t gamble with the future of Britain’s betting industry. Here, today, we present 1 million reasons why the Government should listen to our customers who are backing their local bookie.”
It comes as Downing Street prepares to announce measures to curb gaming machines, amid concerns about their social impact.
The petition the Prime Minister to avoid imposing further measures on a sector that is the only major industry that pays more in tax than it makes in profits. It emphasizes that the high street betting industry is a modern retailer that delivers services and products that customers want.
It also spells out the grave economic and human costs of further Government action. The industry has warned more than 10,000 jobs and 2,300 shops are now at a tipping point following the Chancellor’s Budget, and could be lost if any further action is taken.
In the last 18 months alone, more than 400 small betting businesses have folded. And another 2300 shops, employing more than 10,000 people, are already teetering on the brink of closure because they are now lossmaking or make annual profits of less than £15,000.
Bookmakers have also warned horse and dog racing will suffer if further financial burdens are imposed. Both industries depend on funding from the retail betting sector, totaling £190 million.
Barbara Berki, one of the petitioners who will enter Number 10 today, has been working in retail betting for 31 years. She said:
“We want to show the Government that there is huge support from ordinary people for high street bookmakers. In my three decades in the industry, I’ve seen first-hand the enjoyment that betting shops provide, and their importance to local communities. My staff and customers are deeply saddened by the unjustified criticism of bookmakers. The vast majority of my customers are responsible gamblers, who get real enjoyment from visiting a shop. Betting shops are modern and responsible retailers, not the smoke-filled rooms of years gone by.”
Another of the petitioners, George Moakes, who works at Roar, an independent bookmaker, said:
“Independent bookies like ours have been hit the hardest by Government action. Hundreds more are on the brink of closure. Thousands of jobs and livelihoods are being put at risk. Hundreds of shops barely make enough profit to stay open. It’s saddening and frustrating. Enough is enough.”
Dirk Vennix, Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said:
“The industry has come together as one to demonstrate the breadth of grassroot support for local bookmakers. This about ordinary people standing together and showing the Government that they are deeply concerned by the measures being taken against the industry. And let’s be clear, thousands of jobs are in jeopardy following the Chancellor’s Budget. They will be lost forever if further action is taken.”
“There is no concrete evidence to show action on gaming machines will do anything to minimise problem gambling. Less than 1% of gamblers are problem gamblers. And that number is falling. Problem gambling is about the person, not the product. The solution lies in harm minimization measures such as mandatory breaks in play and self-exclusion and funding education, treatment and research of problem gambling – not punitive measures against a responsible and regulated industry which supports 100,000 jobs.”