The big gamble: the dangerous world of British betting shops | Tom Lamont | Business | The Guardian

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The big gamble: the dangerous world of British betting shops

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Gambling definition gruesome photo

Postby Zulkilabar В» 01.02.2020

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Bookmakers have become a fixture of the British high street. But the savage murder of a lone employee at a London betting shop has revealed the risks that their workers face. Tue 31 May O n its last full day of trading, the Ladbrokes betting shop in Morden, south-west London, stayed open until 10 at night. It was Friday 24 May , the beginning of one of those spring-summer weekends for which the schedules of global sport combine to throw up a glut of events that can be gambled on.

A European football final, a super-middleweight title fight, a Grand Prix, high-season horse races, a golf tournament. A balding and naturally slight man who spent his free hours in the gym, Iacovou had worked for Ladbrokes for more than 20 years.

Iacovou had run a Ladbrokes in Wimbledon, a Ladbrokes in Earlsfield and another Ladbrokes in Morden before moving to his current branch, a glass-fronted shop next to a supermarket, just across the A24 from Morden tube. For more than two decades with the firm, he had seen through changes to the staff uniform tomato-red polo shirts, now as well as a series of dispiriting adjustments to his daily workload.

In the s, when Iacovou first met his wife, Anita, then a Post Office employee, he worked at the Wimbledon branch. It shut to customers at 5. His Morden branch, in , was open seven days a week, from 8. Iacovou generally worked five of those days, sometimes six, often from start to finish. For some hours in the afternoon he would be joined at the till by an assistant, a cashier who helped him process handwritten bets that came in over the counter.

Otherwise, Iacovou manned the shop alone, relying on his regulars for company. Both drivers brought with them takeaway coffees for Iacovou, who could not leave the shop unless his cashier was there. The branch had a regular named Ray, who bet horses, and Kistensamy, who bet horses, and Bill, who only bet dogs. That Friday, Aarij complained to the manager about a problem with one of these machines. Iacovou had to come out from behind his counter to see what was wrong.

At the end of the day these machines had to be laboriously emptied of takings and the shop otherwise shut down. He was exhausted, his wife recalled, and he slept in his uniform. In the morning, Iacovou took the bus back to the Morden branch, arriving at around 8am, in time to meet a colleague from another Ladbrokes who had come to collect a set of spare keys. The pair chatted briefly. There had been a time when they might have been rostered to spend Saturday together in the shop, but no longer.

Iacovou was not expecting his cashier to arrive until after lunch. The managers said goodbye to each other and Iacovou began to prepare for trade, turning on the machines and checking that each of their coin and note slots were functioning properly. He put up pages from the Racing Post and took out cleaning products to tidy his counter area. Iacovou opened a locked door that separated the shop floor from his service area and sat down at his till. As it turned 8. The first customer was Shafique Aarij.

That morning he was carrying a shoulder bag. He went to one of the gambling machines. As had happened the day before, Aarij signalled to Iacovou that there was a problem with his machine. The manager stood up and started to unlock the door beside his counter.

As soon as the latch was turned, Aarij pushed in. He grabbed Iacovou around the neck. The two men struggled. Aarij took a claw hammer from his bag and struck Iacovou over the head with it. He struck again, and again, and then he turned his attention to the safe. It is a rare British high street that has not come to be kitted out, today, in the colours of the bookmakers. In every town, on every retail row, the routine sweep of bank and salon and shrunken supermarket will be studded at almost mathematical intervals by the red of a Ladbrokes storefront or the blue and yellow of a William Hill, likely as well by the blue of a Coral, the blue and red of a Betfred, the pale green of a Stan James or the clover-leaf shade of a Paddy Power.

In total, there are around 9, licensed betting shops in the UK, around half of those operated by Ladbrokes and William Hill. The two corporations are great and bitter rivals, tracing a contempt for one another back to the s. Difficult as it is to credit now, both companies once shared a snotty attitude about the idea of bookmakers having shops.

Up to the s it reckoned itself too posh for street-level trade. Bookmakers at the time operated under licence only at racetracks, or took bets from private customers by post or telephone. Profits made in this way were undermined by a thriving black market in illegal street betting. Before the tonnes of lurid acrylic got hoisted into place on shop fronts nationwide, British bookmaking had as its most visible identifier a lone man or boy, waiting with a satchel of money on any street corner that had a choice of escape routes.

Betting shops were legalised in All had windows that were blacked out, at government insistence, to discourage loitering. Cashiers took in money and sometimes gave it out. Customers could not drink in betting shops, but they could smoke. These were bolt-holes, very often in the backstreets, stuffy but social, somewhere to be. And they were popular, particularly with working-class men. William Hill had shops by , and Ladbrokes more than His company was bought by Sears Holdings Limited in , and then traded on again through a number of conglomerates.

They had 1, shops each, then 2, Instead of pencils came that icon of the modern betting shop, the complimentary pen: stubby, flat edged, much-chucked in frustration, apparently of limitless supply.

Regulation changes in the s allowed TVs to be installed in shops, bringing in races and results direct from horse and greyhound tracks. Cashiers, in the s, got networked computers. The major bookmakers also launched and invested in dotcom operations, but they were not especially light-footed about it, and their profits were eaten into by an online-only service named Betfair that empowered its customers to act as bookies themselves, setting odds and taking bets from one another.

Takings fell. Broadly speaking, there was less profit for bookmakers there: in football, unlike in a or rider horse race, only one side could fail to win. Takings fell further. FOBTs, when they came, were accepting of much larger sums than the fruit machines that preceded them.

Losers lost faster, and losing became an identifiably scratchier thing. Staff explained: the customer who backed a too-slow horse or a crap dog might afterwards rail at fate or the gods, or even the employees behind their counters. But they could not plausibly claim to have been cheated. Machine players brought with them a new paranoia.

FOBTs are fixed, thus the name — fixed-odds betting terminals. Over time they will pay back to customers Many shop workers I spoke to had stories about looking on, impotent, as the machines under their charge were angrily destroyed by the customers who had been playing them.

Worse, somehow, was when a machine was calmly destroyed. According to figures I have seen, the number of incidents of damage to machines in Ladbrokes branches rose steadily between and And how many casinos, they asked, got by without bouncers to cope with aggrieved gamblers?

How many were run by individuals on their own? The policy meant that, subject to certain conditions, including a risk assessment of individual branches and a tick-box check of employee competence, shops could be run by one person for periods of the day and night. In fact, in the majority of shops, there would be a mandatory number of hours during which there could only be one person rostered to work.

People at all levels of the company told me they were in no doubt as to why it was introduced. Ladbrokes said this was a result of cuts in staffing at all levels, not specifically on shop floors. At shop level, a choice: work on your own, or risk your job. At first, those who agreed to single-man were paid extra — something like an additional 40p an hour.

The hourly pay for branch managers, who are known internally at Ladbrokes as customer service managers, varies by area and age. Internal Ladbrokes sources spoke candidly to me on the condition that I not use their names. So did most of the dozens of betting shop workers I consulted for this story.

Entering branches around the UK, and introducing myself as a reporter, I became used to a singular response: behind the counter their eyes would flick, instinctively, to the nearest CCTV camera. Employees said they feared the sack if they complained in public forums about their working conditions.

A Ladbrokes employee in Birmingham reported the same. Many of the part-time-working students and other junior staff I interviewed insisted they did not expect to be in their jobs for ever, that a pervasive industry gloom would soon flush them out — but that they needed good references, so could their names be left out of my story? I met working parents, working parents-to-be, second-generation staff who worked in branches with their parents, and other employees who could not risk dismissal, so asked to speak anonymously.

But they spoke. The area manager in the north recalled his shame at telling staff who were unnerved by single-manning in its early phase that they were really in no extra danger. Persuading his staff became easier when other major betting chains started to single-man.

Employees at Betfred, Stan James, Coral and Paddy Power told me they were all asked to work in their shops alone on a frequent basis. Andrew and Anita Iacovou first met inside a Ladbrokes. It was a Saturday in April , Grand National weekend. Anita had put an each-way bet on a horse called Party Politics. When her horse finished second, she took her ticket to Iacovou, who was working behind the counter. They started talking.

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