If you look back in history, betting shops were a popular jaunt for many people on the high street. Not only did these establishments provide a place to go to engage in sports betting, but they also provided a highly social environment for many, too. Gamblers could visit the stores, place a bet or two and engage in some chit-chat with others, all while watching the events unfold on television screens within the shops. Of course, a lot of that has since changed, with the boom of the online sports betting industry having a large impact on high street betting chains.
Several decades ago it wasn’t uncommon to read stories about these betting shops being raided and their money stolen by thieves. Naturally, back then, they would have big amounts of money on the premises to provide customers with payouts for their successful bets. And while they still need to do so today, the decline in the number of bettors engaging in sports wagering this way has meant that less money is needed on site. Many that do bet in shops also do so with cards now, meaning less cash in general on the premises.
We thought it would be interesting to look at whether anyone actually robs these betting shops anymore. Because of the lower amounts of money kept inside, it would seem a little pointless to do so now, wouldn’t it? Combined with that there are simply less shops to actually raid and security cameras are highly prevalent these days. How has shop crime changed due to this reduction in the amount of money kept at high street bookmaker shops?
The Decline of Punters in Betting Shops
British betting shops have been the staple of British high streets for a number of decades now. They were legalised back in 1961, and up to 10,000 of them opened up within the first six months after this became law. While other stores may have closed down around them, betting shops seemed to weather the storm that clothing stores, grocers and other such establishments couldn’t get through. Most of them have seen other businesses come and go, and they remain active right through to this day.
However, there is little doubting that there has been a significant decline in both the number of shops and the number of people visiting them. And while the shops have gone through various changes over the years to appeal to the bettors of the UK, such as altering the interiors from drab greys and beiges to much more colourful décor, as well as introducing television screens in the 80s, it seems like the online and mobile betting scene of more recent times has had an impact that there is no returning from.
Because people are now able to simply load a sportsbook up from their home computer or from a mobile device, this is much more convenient than having to visit an actual shop. Therefore, the majority of younger bettors have likely taken the decision to solely bet online. Betting shops are now clinging on to the custom brought in by the older generation who have spent their whole adult lives visiting these betting branches. The likelihood is that this will lead to the death of such stores, unless something drastic happens to draw people back in to them.
And while this does seem to spell doom out for the shops themselves, it has also potentially meant that a lower level of high street crime has been experienced, too.
Consider this – back in the 1970s and 80s, the concentration of betting shops continued at a slow pace. Companies like Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral stood out as the country’s largest and most dominant players. Yet, by 1990, the number of high street betting shops had declined by around 10,000. In the 70s, if there were one million people visiting every year and the majority of them placing bets, a shop would need plenty of cash on hand to provide payouts in the event of even half of that number placing winning bets.
Fast forward to 2019, when betting shop provision was not so highly concentrated and fewer people were visiting. If 500,000 people across the country are visiting these stores annually, that’s a 50% drop on the 80s figures. Why would the range of betting shops need to keep as much money on site? The answer is they wouldn’t. Instead, they reduce the money kept inside betting shops and there is, generally speaking, enough to cover the winning bets placed by the people who maintain their loyalty to the shops.
Does Less Visitors Mean Less Betting Shop Raids?
It would be easy to imagine that because there is less money kept on the premises of betting shops, there is less incentive for robbers to strike. And while that is true in some sense, it’s not entirely that way. In fact, various large stories have come to the fore in the past decade or so of people who have partaken in robberies of bookies on the high street.
In 2010 for example, police released a CCTV image of a man who was suspected of carrying out three raids on bookmakers across Thanet, Kent. According to reports by the police, the man threatened the employees of the three bookies with a knife before proceeding to empty the cash from them into a carrier bag. His robbery spree occurred over a 24-hour period, with the first taking place at a Coral shop. Later on, he invaded a Betfred store before finishing off at an alternative Coral store located in Westgate.
Yet, even more recently, betting shops have been targeted by robbers, with the very latest ones occurring in March and June of 2021. The former saw a man don a rubber face mask akin to something witnessed in a horror film, before he proceeded to rob betting shops across South London. Andrae Moncrieffe of Southwark was captured and found guilty of three counts of robbery and three counts of possession of an imitation firearm.
As for the June incident, men who were armed with a firearm and a machete attempted to rob a bookmaker in a Coral establishment at Gosport. The attempt occurred between 6:30 and 7:15pm on Sunday, June 6. Threats were made towards a member of staff by the two men, but they refused to hand over the money that was being demanded. Again, CCTV footage of the two men was released, although their faces were mostly obscured.
And even more recent than that, it was only earlier on in August that two men were arrested for partaking in an armed robbery at a betting shop in Leeds. Each one was believed to have been in possession of a hammer, and they targeted the Coral bookie, entering through the rear of the shop at 7:38pm. A member of staff was pushed over and then money was stolen from the business’s till. The pair then fled in a silver Vauxhall Astra. Police arrested a 42-year-old and a 48-year-old on suspicion of committing the offence.
Despite these establishments no longer playing host to as much money as they did years ago, they have still been targeted on certain occasions by robbers. Why is this?
Large Cash Transactions and Lightly-Staffed Shops
According to Scotland Yard, around 40% of all serious crime against businesses in 2015 was actually aimed at betting shops. Police had real concerns over the vulnerability of bookmakers on the high street, due to the fact that they rely on large cash transactions, but tend to have very lightly-staffed premises.
Thieves therefore see betting shops as easy targets. Despite them not playing host to as much money as they once did, the amount remains significant enough to appeal to robbers, it seems. Many high street bookmakers hostgambling machines, and these have been found in disproportionately poorer parts of the country. In 2015, they managed to generate around £1.7 billion in revenue for bookies.
It was figures like this that led to politicians in all parties of the UK campaigning for something to be done. Not only due to concerns over potential robberies, but also due to the impact of gambling addiction for customers. By 2019, the maximum stake that could be placed on these machines had been reduced to £2 from £100. Although, in theory, someone could still gamble high amounts on them, just over a longer period of time.
A presentation done by the London flying squad to the gambling industry in 2016 revealed the following startling information:
- Betting shops were the victim of over 200 of the 523 serious robberies against commercial properties in London in 2015.
- Betting shops accounted for 70% of all robberies at commercial properties in London that also included a firearm being used. A total of 167 robberies at gunpoint took place in these businesses in comparison to just 17 in banks, where more money is held.
- Haringey was the worst-hit part of London, which incorporates the wealthier area of Highgate as well as the poorer district of Tottenham. Flying squad authorities dealt with almost a single robbery every week there.
Betting shops remained a large concern through the first part of 2016 as well, with police reporting that there was little sign of the issue changing. Attacks still made up around 50% of all offences attended to by the flying squad. The majority of those included the involvement of a firearm of some kind as well as theft of more than £1,000.
That theory was backed up in more recent times as well. Not only did the previously spoken of robberies take place, but several were committed by the same man in 2020. Various betting shops in New Cross came under attack by Kenneth Brown, 53, a homeless man, who handed cashiers a written note that said, “give me the money – or I will blow your ******* head off”.
Of course, these could be simple isolated incidents, and when compared with the robberies that were occurring in the 70s and 80s, some could argue that it isn’t the same problem that it used to be. Yet, with the figures released in the presentation from 2016, that isn’t quite the case. Potentially, the fixed odds betting terminals allowed for people to still spend high amounts within the establishments. After all, bookies feature these casino-style games as well as the sports betting options.
The fact also remains that many high street betting shops exist in the poorer areas of the country. And crime is often synonymous with these districts, for obvious reasons. Therefore, betting shops will likely continue to be targeted in some degree. Even if that isn’t occurring as often as it once was, they remain somewhat of a target for robbers to take what isn’t rightfully theirs.
Betting shops remain as a prime target for some robbers, it seems. The amount of money that they get may not be the reason behind their attempts, as the likelihood is that they don’t know how much money is available on site. Instead, it is often the case that thieves will participate in such activity for the thrill of it, to get away with whatever they can and for something to do to entertain themselves.
Potentially, bookies look like easy targets, as they are no longer manned by multiple staff members. Furthermore, they aren’t often as full as they were back in the day. So, there is less chance of someone recognising them afterwards or risking their life and tackling them in mid-robbery. Whatever the case may be, bookmakers are still be targeted by robbers today. Maybe not to the massive degree they once were, but certainly, it is still an activity that is at large.