Horse versus machine: Battles in the betting shop

Abstract

Changes in regulation and taxation during the past decade have had a profound effect on the experience of betting in dedicated shops in the United Kingdom. This article explores how betting shop customers and staff in London have responded to the introduction of gambling machines depicting roulette and other casino-type games in an environment that was traditionally dedicated to betting on horse and dog racing. The rise of machine gambling has been presented as a transition from ‘social’ to ‘asocial’ forms of gambling by researchers working in the {UK}, Las Vegas, and Australia. Traditional bettors and betting shop staff also present betting and machine play as discrete and value them differently. I show that while some of the experiential qualities of machine play observed elsewhere have been replicated in shops, the differences between traditional betting and machine play are overstated, for structural reasons. Traditional bettors and staff are interested in distinguishing their activities from those of newcomers. Responses to new gambling media in betting shops are socially, as well as experientially, mediated, a crucial insight for the wider study of gambling and gambling regulation.

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