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Like it or not, betting shops are now an established facet of the British landscape."I climbed the rickety wooden stairs to Jack Swift's first-floor betting office in Dover Street, off Piccadilly.I never did find out exactly what had happened that night but my best guess is that a delivery of punters' money was taking place to a bookmaker when tax officials decided to make a raid.I had clearly been used as a decoy, as no one would suspect a man with a small child in tow of such skulduggery.
The existing betting firms had run their businesses for on-course clients and for those with the financial (credit) and technical (telephone) means to place off-course bets.When betting shops were legalised on , up to 10,000 opened within the first six months.Nearly 50 years on, there are scarcely fewer in operation and nearly every high street in the country seems to have at least one, most of them modernised and respectable, standing cheek by jowl with the butchers, chemists and building society branches.Scotland's most famous bookmaker, the Glaswegian John Banks, was in no doubt about the value of being on the high street, however: "Betting shops are a licence to print money." Not all of them wanted to embrace the world of mass betting, partly because of the capital investment required.One of the godfathers of English bookmaking, William Hill, who had started his business in 1934, wanted nothing to do with betting shops, only buying into them in 1966.
On that first day of legal betting shops, this tiny emporium was glorious bedlam, packed out with punters shouting their horses home.