Interested by the story that betting shops face closure because of a new tax, I visited one in Marylebone High Street. The high street is a combination of stores like Waitrose,Tesco and Boots and smaller shops like Fromagerie for cheese and Ginger Pig for meat, as well as numerous restaurants. Immediately setting foot in Ladbrokes, I could sense a total difference in style. Without wishing to be snobbsh, it was totally for the working class man: the amenities were basic, the decor unattractive, its sole function was the laying of bets. I am sure its interior, or that of any betting shop, has not changed in 50 years. Significantly over that period the punter can lay his bets on the Internet.
The lady behind the till was friendly enough, wishing me good luck with the small wager I made on a Chelsea/Athletico Madrid draw. She would be watching the match in the shop. The punters were friendly enough too but all male. Betting shops have a dominant high street presence but I wonder how much of their business is online?
They need a make-over if not face lift. In the same way that independent book shops need to have book clubs, talks and inventive ways of getting readers in, so the betting shop would become a meeting point for sports and betting enthusiasts. They could serve coffee, have an expert to analyse the game and make recommendations, comfy chairs to watch the game on big screens. It seems to me that this new tax is not the killer but a retail shopping trade that has been far too slow to react to change.