Those growing increasingly fed up about the domination of the Great British High Street by bookies, payday lenders and charity shops have cause for cheer today. Ladbrokes, Britain's second-biggest chain of betting shops, has announced it expects to close another 60 of its 2,209 UK stores this year, amid tighter regulation and falling profits.
Though the company's revenues were up 3.8% to £1.2bn in 2014, pre-tax profits slumped 13.5% to £98m. Revenue in its UK retail business did grow slightly by 0.7%, but given the benefit it must have gained from the World Cup that's hardly impressive.
'We delivered against all our operational targets, enjoyed a successful World Cup and saw clear growth in key areas of the business,' said its chief executive Richard Glynn, who admitted than an £8m hit on Boxing Day 'took some shine off our performance.'
Glynn, who's had the top job at Ladbrokes for five years, announced in December that he will stand down some time this year after a new chief executive is found to replace him. His successor will face some tough questions about what the business will look like in the next five years.
Bookies have faced criticism from campaigners and politicians for their use of 'fixed-odds betting terminals', gaming machines which can take bets of up to £100 every 20 seconds and have been described as 'crack cocaine' for gambling addicts. George Osborne raised the duty on them to 25% in his last budget back in March, and that seems to be taking its toll. Ladbrokes closed a net 150 shops in the past year and rival William Hill decided to shut 109 of its stores last April.
In contrast, Ladbrokes' digital revenues in 2014 were up 22.9% to £215m, and profits soared 70.7% to £14m. Clearly online is the way to go. As calls for tighter regulation and the move to digital gambling grow, bookies look set to be less of staple of the high street in future generations.