SBC News Retail betting shops in the UK and Ireland: the future is now

Retail betting shops in the UK and Ireland: the future is now

SBC News Retail betting shops in the UK and Ireland: the future is now
Alan Pepperell,

Alan Pepperell, Retail Director, Spotlight Sports Group, offers some fascinating insight into the changing face of the UK’s retail betting sector and how the industry is focusing on digitising horse racing in betting shops to make them a destination to enjoy live sports events.

The betting shop revolution

In the past few decades betting shops have seen several potential threats to their widespread existence but, as a whole, innovation has enabled them to continue to thrive. 

In 1994, the UK government launched the National Lottery which was seen as a big threat to betting shops. They then allowed betting on the outcome of the Irish Lottery and a new 49s numbers game. Betting Shops were able to survive those threats and innovate as needed. 

A prime example of innovation led to the introduction of international racing and virtual racing. In 2001, when foot-and-mouth disease shut down UK racing for a period of time, even cancelling the Cheltenham Festival, bookmakers introduced international racing options and virtual racing went mainstream.

As the digital age began in full swing, betting shops again had to change their operations for the future. In the last 10 years, this has led to an increase in the digitisation of shops, with the growth in self-service betting terminals (SSBTs). Previously, customers placed all their football bets on paper coupons but now more than 85% of football business is placed on SSBTs.

In the next five years, there is going to be a continued focus on digitising horse racing in betting shops, making them a destination to enjoy live sports events.

Horse racing bettors, change is coming

While football customers have come to prefer placing their bets on SSBTs, racing customers have been slower to adopt the digital proposition with the majority of business (80%+) still taking place over the counter. 

This can be attributed to a variety of factors, including the average age of racing customers (50+). Importantly, the racing proposition on SSBTs is not yet as good as on the gantry or digital displays due to the complexity of racing cards.

There is no doubt that innovation to increase the percentage of turnover placed through digital touchpoints is underway. Operators are keen to move all bettors in the direction of becoming comfortable with SSBTs so better products are essential for this evolution to occur.

Interactive Digital Betting Shop Displays (BSD) and upgraded till systems lend themselves to transactional activity direct from content, which inevitably is the goal towards which all betting shop operators are aiming.

With all of this in mind, Racing Post has focused vigorously on developing a range of digital products over the past five years to complement operators looking to digitise their retail estate. This has led to a handful of market-leading retail products that are now in hundreds of betting shops across the UK and Ireland. 

Leading the digital revolution from the Racing Post is the Digital BSD, which provides customers with access to all the content they are used to from the Print BSD and Racing Post newspaper on a single interactive screen, with operator prices integrated for a one-stop experience.

With 37 years of heritage and brand trust in providing compelling content for horse racing and greyhounds, and now producing high-quality content and insights for all sports, Racing Post is well-positioned to help lead the charge for the digitalisation of betting shops.

Simplifying the digital experience

Due to the nature of the retail experience evolving with the times, Racing Post has been working on a Smart View racecard product for the last two years in order to simplify the traditional way racecards are presented.

Smart View is the fruit of a long period of development by our racing experts, data scientists and designers. But, crucially, the final numbers it produces are not our opinions – the logic is all done by machine. As such, the scores Smart View provides look very much like those you would expect from a skilled, dispassionate judge. 

With Smart View, each horse is assigned a rating for six key attributes, along with an overall rating scored out of 100, after mathematical modelling and machine learning techniques have generated an objective assessment.

As our team began development for the Smart View product, we focused on accomplishing one goal, which was to engage a new, younger audience with racing. This led to our team borrowing ideas from games such as Fifa and Football Manager to help in the development of Smart View.

Retail success in the future will be centred around SSBTs, fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) and sports betting. There was a need to innovate and Smart View proves the value that Racing Post can deliver to drive incremental staking on racing.

Betting shops are wagering on the future

While there has been a consolidation in retail over the past four years, driven by the Triennial review in reducing stakes on FOBTs and the Covid pandemic, the sector continues to be resilient and there is significant investment in retail. 

Entain has invested in 150 digital hubs, completely overhauling the look and feel of shops with digitisation and comfort at the core, William Hill have opened a number of shops of the future, Betfred are seeing the value of digital investment and Boyles are continuing to increase their footprint.

BarOne are a great example of what the future of retail looks like – they have now installed Racing Post digital BSDs in all their 55-shop estate in Ireland, becoming the first operator to complete the print-to-digital migration.  

As retail operators continue to upgrade their operations to include more digital offerings, Racing Post will continue to innovate to ensure betting shops survive for decades to come. We have supplied betting shops in the past, and in the present and intend to continue to help our partners stay ahead of the field in the future.

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