Last month we looked at how betting shops will reopen after lockdown, and now that they have been open for a few weeks it’s a good opportunity to find out how they are handling the new restrictions and safety measures.
Bookie’s shops may be back in business, but obviously with social distancing and the threat of a second spike of coronavirus certain measures have had to be taken to ensure customer and staff safety, and to keep up with Government guidelines. This is going to have an impact on the bookmaker experience.
Of course every business is towing the line and saying all the right things about safety being the number one priority, but how does this look in reality? Is it just lip service or are betting firms walking the walk as well as talking the talk?
Well, the only way to find out was to shut down my computer and get out into the real world and experience it for myself. So that’s what I did.
Accessing the Shop
People are queuing outside supermarkets and fashion shops when they are busy, and the 2-meter rule is still in force country wide, but these safety measures could prove tricky for many bookies as they tend to run from smaller plots. However, the lack of footfall and the transient nature of a lot of bettors actually works in their favour here.
There were no queues to get in any of the four shops I visited and no system set up for a sudden influx of customers either, but to be fair to them this really wasn’t necessary. Ladbrokes was by far the busiest shop from my experience and there were never more than 10 people in there at one time, and it was a fairly big shop too.
That’s not to say social distancing was adhered to however. The great British public love to know better and absolutely hate being told what to do, so there was very little attempt to keep two meters apart in any of the shops I went to, despite the floor markings. I even saw people huddled around the FOBTs watching each other play.
The doors were wide open at all stores but PaddyPower, which actually had a doorbell system so that the staff could control the number of people allowed in at any one time. This was another fairly big shop though, and had an upper limit of 23 customers which, in the middle of a week day, was in no danger of being reached. Glorious Goodwood was in full swing during my visit too, so even big meetings don’t seem to be bringing in huge crowds.
In the main though, getting in and out of your favourite bookies is going to be no different than before lockdown, you can just turn up and walk in.
What Safety Precautions are in Place?
Happily, every bookie I visited had hand sanitiser readily available in numerous locations and especially near the entrance/exit, and even better, people seemed to be using it. Not all of them, but quite a few.
The difficulty here though is that a lot of people dip in and out of bookies for a few minutes at a time, either to spin a tenner on an FOBT or to bet on and watch a single race while on their lunch break for example. Betting is a regular part of many people’s daily routine, so they may go in and out of shops several times throughout the day – a lot of people just won’t want to use that horrible sanitiser every time.
This leads onto the pens. Every single bookie left pen management to the punters, which of course meant that we all shared them. Again, there was some signage advising us all to use our own pen but is this really going to be effective?
You could ask for touchscreen pens for the machines at Ladbrokes and Coral, not that anyone was bothering to, and I didn’t see any staff wiping down any surfaces or anything like that. To be fair I didn’t spend more than an hour in any one shop so I could just have missed this happening – it all looked clean.
As for social distancing, well, like I said the warnings and floor markings were roundly ignored by everyone, and while some shops really went to town with safety warnings (PaddyPower even dedicated a few TV screens to cycling through safety advice) Betfred barely had anything up once you got through the front door.
Most machines in betting shops aren’t 2 meters apart and none had been moved to try and create distance (is this even possible with the weight of them?), but all had full height sturdy looking plastic barrier screens on either side of them, so each machine felt like a safe and isolated little area providing no one got in there with you.
The takeaway here was that necessary safety measures are in place if you want to use them, but aren’t really enforced.
From Friday 31st July, face masks will be compulsory for anyone entering a betting shop, although some such as PaddyPower have implemented in house face mask rules ever since they re-opened.
Masks have always been ‘advised’ but there was little effort to encourage this from what I could see during my time visiting betting shops, it was very much up to the customer.
From now on though fines of up to £100 could be doled out to anyone caught not wearing one in all shops including bookies, and the shops themselves will be under pressure to police this or face their own potential issues with the authorities.
However, interestingly bookies are one of the few establishments where staff will be allowed to ask customers to remove their face masks for a short time in order to carry out ID checks and age verification. Obviously, a face mask could be pretty useful for anyone who has self-excluded but wants to bet again or people who are underage, so bookies need to see unmasked faces in order to combat this.
The general trend seems to be for staff to wear masks on the shop floor but not behind the counter, which all have plastic screens in front of them anyway. Betfred staff seemed especially hot on this, although no gloves were worn at any of the shops and everyone was handling cash both when taking bets and when paying out.
I have to give the staff at PaddyPower their due here too because I saw one of them refuse to serve a customer who wasn’t wearing a face mask and even stick to their guns when the customer kicked up a fuss – to put it politely. No other bookie was this strict, and I saw plenty of people betting without masks on. Over at Coral, eating in the shop is currently banned and this seems to be being policed by the people that work there.
It’s hard for the staff though because most are working alone or in pairs, and it’s safe to assume they aren’t being paid enough to be security guards as well as shop staff. Luckily, most are skilled in the art of taking the micky and regular customers won’t cause them any trouble in the first place, and will often back them up if there was any.
Overall, the staff are doing what they can to keep themselves and customers safe but they could really use a dedicated team member for COVID related stuff.
What is the Atmosphere Like?
I would say it was a little quieter than I have known it to be in the shops I visited – these are my locals so I have some idea of what is a normal amount of custom for them – but I’m glad to say the atmosphere hadn’t changed much.
Yes, it sucks that you can’t grab a free coffee at Laddies anymore, or eat your sandwich at Coral, and when I was busting for a wee in Betfred I had to leave and go in the shopping centre next door (there’s a toilet, I didn’t just go on the floor), but apart from that people were their usual jokey, sarcastic selves, and the current situation was actually the crux of much of the banter.
It was nice to hear the staff ribbing the customers as usual; a particular favourite moment was when a regular character at Ladbrokes made a joke about the horse, One Forty Seven, having got the time wrong only to be told very loudly by the lady behind the counter:
“That’s flipping hilarious that Derek, really funny, how you’re still single and unemployed I’ll never know.”
You could say that things were a little muted in comparison to the pre-COVID days, but it wasn’t so different as to diminish the enjoyment. A 50/1 upset in the 13:45 at Goodwood still roused cheers and cries of disbelief from those that were watching, and it felt a bit like the old days again.
Summary of Betting During Coronavirus Pandemic
To be perfectly honest, aside from a few extra rules that are only half being followed, betting shops are operating in much the same way as they were before.
It looks different what with all the warning signs, hand sanitiser, and plastic screens, but you can still sit in the shops for hours and watch live sport, place bets with cash, and chat with other punters and staff.
You should take a mask with you if you want to bet in store though, not just because it is the responsible and respectful thing to do but also because you might be turned away if you don’t, but that’s about the only ‘restriction’ – if you can call it that – in place worth mentioning.