Bookies' profits are put on ice

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The Independent Online

Losing streaks are nothing new for betting shops, but they are the punter's. As 1995 draws to a frostbound close, however, Britain's bookmakers are counting the cost after their worst run of misfortune since betting shops were legalised almost 35 years ago.

With Britain's racecourses frozen solid the industry estimates that turnover of pounds 50m was lost on Boxing Day alone, and as much again on the three blank days since.

Nor does their luck show much sign of turning. Betting turnover has dropped significantly in the face of competition from the National Lottery, but the Department of National Heritage denied yesterday that it had any plans to allow bookmakers to take bets on the lottery's winning numbers.

If the cold spell is prolonged, the the lottery and lack of betting turnover could put bookmakers out of business.

Even the bookies' sole cause for celebration in 1995, a reduction in betting duty, was seen as too little, too late. "It wasn't enough and it was only because the lottery was devastating us that we got it," Tom Kelly, of the Betting Office Licensees Association, said yesterday.

British backers can bet on the Irish state lottery numbers at branches of William Hill, but bets on Camelot's numbers are banned due to fears that lottery turnover will be affected. For picking three numbers out of six, bookies might pay out at 55-1 rather than the 9-1 returned by the lottery.

The industry's bad luck is set to continue this weekend as two all- weather meetings at Wolverhampton are in doubt because low temperatures are causing the course's Fibresand particles to stick together.

Race cards, page 21