betting shops

   Betting shops appear on every British high street. The following companies operate shops: Ladbrokes (1,906 shops), William Hill, owned by Grand Metropolitan (1,510), Coral Racing, owned by Bass (833) and Stanley Racing (564). Fears of monopoly have led to the ‘440 yard’ rule. Because most people walk to place a bet, when a merger of ownership is proposed between two shops within that distance, one must be sold to increase competition. It is generally assumed that betting shops receive the bulk of consumer spending on gambling; in fact casinos, at £2,461m, account for more than twice the amount spent in betting shops (£1,225m) and both bingo (£811m) and football pools (£823m) are close runners-up. Total betting shop revenue is about the same as the Government’s Premium Bonds (£1,279m), though these do have an investment element.
   There is no tax on ‘on course’ betting which accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the overall total, but the government takes 37.5 percent of stake money on football pools, 9 percent on general betting and 12 percent on the National Lottery. Most bets are still on horse and greyhound racing, but in recent years betting shops have extended the range of bets they will take. Some are ‘exotic’, such as the likelihood of a human landing on Mars, but they are usually still sportrelated: the outcome of games in the soccer World Cup, the half-time score of particular matches, the first player to score and so on.
   Betting shops are traditionally an integral part of working-class life. They reflect a tradition of interest in horse racing, which is both upper and lower class and from which the middle class are by and large excluded. The puritanism of the latter in regard to gambling has been tempered only by government sponsored Premium Bonds and the National Lottery, and many middle-class people only bet on the Grand National and perhaps the Derby. Expenditure on betting and gaming by the average household has declined in real terms during the period 1983–96 by 32.3 percent, to 90 pence per week, but this is misleading because individual gamblers spend much larger sums and the National Lottery has taken up much of the slack. Periodic claims are made that betting shops will be made more alluring to punters, through such measures as the serving of refreshments or providing comfortable chairs. In practice they remain largely male haunts, where, because of legal constraints, passers-by may not even see in through the windows and the family is excluded.
   See also: Grand National; horse racing
   MIKE STORRY

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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