Racing: Betting shops reach twilight time

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The Independent Online
BOOKMAKERS are preparing to welcome punters into their shops tonight with the expectation that the extension of opening hours beyond the old 6.30pm deadline will help restore profits lost by the abandonment of the Grand National, writes Mark Popham.

Tonight's Taunton meeting is the first twilight card to be held since the law was relaxed on 1 April and bookmakers anticipate that the extended hours will improve trade by 10 per cent. That depends on punters changing their social habits as well as delving even deeper into their pockets.

Opponents of evening opening include many bookmakers who are independent of the three major firms, betting-shop staff and the greyhound racing industry which fears that attendances will fall in the face of the competition from warm, free betting shops with live televised action.

For betting-shop staff there will be more opportunities - Ladbrokes are recruiting 2,040 temporary staff to spread the workload - but for those already employed in the industry little option but to agree to the new working hours or face dismissal. Ladbrokes, due to open 1,600 of their 2,000 branches this evening, are giving notice to the 12 out of 11,000 staff who have not signed new contracts.

Paul Austin, Ladbrokes' spokesman, says that the firm has researched the evening market very carefully and have decided to close shops such as one near London's Oxford Street, while expecting that another in nearby Soho will be extremely busy.

Other bookmakers are working on the scatter-gun principle. William Hill, Britain's second largest firm after Ladbrokes, will initially have all their 1,700 outlets open. Coral, the next in the pecking order, have compromised with 738 of 777 shops trading late.