Bookie bets on modern punters

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The Independent Online

Italian betting giant SNAI arrives in the UK this week hoping to transform the spit and sawdust image of the traditional independent British bookmaker.

Italian betting giant SNAI arrives in the UK this week hoping to transform the spit and sawdust image of the traditional independent British bookmaker.

It aims to appeal to small betting shops struggling to compete with both the industry's big three and the burgeoning online betting market.

SNAI plans to offer these independents a makeover service aimed at bringing in a different type of punter, while protecting them from being swallowed up by bigger rivals.

The independent high- street bookie is fast becoming an endangered species, with just 3,000 left in the UK. The overall number has fallen by more than a third in the past 20 years to just over 8,000.

In 1975, the three largest bookmakers had a market share of 12 per cent. Today Ladbrokes, William Hill and Coral operate 51 per cent of the UK's betting shops between them and generate 65 per cent of the turnover of UK-based betting.

SNAI is gambling on signing up one in three independent bookies - about 1,000 - by the end of 2002. The shops will be fitted with computer hardware and internet links allowing bets to be made via terminals as well as over the counter. They will cover a broad range of sports beamed in live via satellite.

In return, the bookmaker will pay a fee of around £15,000 together with a percentage from all bets made on the web.

Maurizio Ughi, SNAI president, said: "We need to broaden the appeal of betting to make it interesting and acceptable to different groups of people. There is a stereotyped perception of betting shops as seedy, smoke-filled dens frequented almost entirely by men aged over 45 from the nether regions of society."

The Italian company has commissioned research which, it says, shows non-gamblers don't understand odds and find it embarrassing to ask. It adds that the sector is technophobic.

"We have to remove the intimidation factor from gambling," said Mr Ughi, "and drag it into the 21st century, in order to provide something that the public can identify with, and which will prove profitable for bookmakers."

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