Study refutes claims that bookies prey on the poor

Dirk Vennix
Dirk Vennix

A new independent report has undermined allegations that high street bookmakers target deprived areas and vulnerable people. It comes as Prime Minister David Cameron prepares to announce measures to curb gaming machines, reacting to concerns about the social cost of the machines.

The report, carried out by the Local Data Company, reveals that just 17% of Britain’s betting shops are in the most deprived areas of the country, compared to 35% in the least deprived areas. In total, almost two-thirds (62%) of betting shops are in areas with lower than average levels of deprivation.

Matthew Hopkinson, director of the Local Data Company, commented: “It is clear that betting shops are not clustered in towns with high deprivation scores. A minority of shops are in the poorest areas, while a majority are in the least deprived areas.”

Key findings are:

  • Areas with highest levels of deprivation have the lowest number of betting shops (17%), while least deprived areas have the most (35%)
  •  New shop openings over past 3 years concentrated in Britain’s least deprived areas
  • Shops in the most deprived areas are less profitable for bookies compared to least deprived areas
  • Number of betting shops increased by just 1.3% in 2013 – showing proliferation of high street bookmakers is much slower than widely believed

In addition, the report finds no evidence that the industry targets the poorest people. Analysis of town populations, split by socio-economic group, shows no difference per head of population between the number of betting shops in ABC1 areas and the number in C2DE areas.

Hopkinson explained: “There is nothing in the data to suggest that bookmakers deliberately target poor and vulnerable people. Our analysis shows new shop openings are primarily in towns with low and average deprivation scores – not in the poorest areas.”

The report also reveals the expansion in the number of high street bookmakers is much less aggressive than has been widely reported. In 2013, the number of shops increased by just 1.3%, compared to growth rates of over 3% in the number of pawnbrokers, coffee shops and convenience stores on British high streets. In total, bookies account for just 1.7% of all live retail units in Britain.

An analysis of closures and new openings in the three years up to December 2013 reveals new shop openings have been concentrated in Britain’s least deprived areas.

The findings of the report also appear to discredit claims that shops in deprived areas are the most profitable, which critics say has led to the industry targeting poor areas. An analysis of gross win data per shop per capita illustrates that shops in the poorest areas are not as profitable as shops in areas with lower levels of deprivation – clearly suggesting there is no commercial incentive for bookmakers to target poorer areas.

Dirk Vennix, Chief Executive of the Association of British Bookmakers, said: “The betting industry does not target the poor and the vulnerable. It never has, and it never will. This report should help dispel some damaging myths propagated by those trying to demonise and toxify our industry.

“We are a responsible and regulated industry selling a mainstream leisure product enjoyed by over 8 million people per year. We choose where to locate our shops in the same way as any other retailer would – using commercial factors such as consumer demand, footfall, and competitive presence. It makes no sense whatsoever for us to target poor communities or vulnerable people.”


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