Ladbrokes halts shops expansion

ladbrokesshopsexpansionLadbrokes, the bookmaker under fire for its lacklustre digital business, has halted its betting shop opening programme amid a growing backlash over the number of outlets on the high street.

Having opened around 200 shops in the past two years, bringing its UK estate to more than 2,300, the bookmaker will tell analysts at its full-year results this month it expects to be a “net closer” of shops this year.

The move is also likely to see annual capital expenditure fall from about £100m to £60m. Richard Glynn, the chief executive under pressure after four profits warnings in 20 months, is expected to say that the shops continue to be a key part of the business, with recent new openings producing a payback within three years.

However, Mr Glynn’s main focus is improving the group’s below-par digital and mobile betting arms, via a tie-up with software operator Playtech. There is also growing political pressure on bookmakers to rein in their high-street expansion.

A campaign against fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in the shops — gambling machines dubbed the “crack cocaine” of the high street — has momentum. The Government is reviewing FOBTs and a crackdown is expected. JP Morgan Cazenove said Ladbrokes could be hardest hit by any move to reduce maximum stakes from £100 to £20.

A Ladbrokes spokesman said: “This year we are likely to be a net closer of shops as we focus on optimising our investments in the retail estate and look to deal with some of the non-contributing shops.”

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