William Hill has been accused of deploying “cynical” tactics to keep people playing after the bookmaker launched an in-store cafe selling hot food, with some items cheaper than at McDonald’s.
At a branch of the bookmaker in Arndale Shopping Center in central Manchester, a sign advertised a “WH Cafe”, selling offers of meals, burgers and breakfast.
The promotion included a special offer for a £ 2 sausage and egg muffin, significantly less than the equivalent menu option at McDonald’s, while Big Al’s Chicken Burger costs £ 2.50, again much cheaper than ‘a McChicken sandwich.
William Hill is testing the idea in five of its 1,048 betting shops and said it was a response to customer requests rather than an attempt to keep players in the stores longer.
Bookies have often sold snacks and provided tea and coffee, sometimes for free, to regular punters betting on horse races or on gambling machines such as the controversial fixed odds betting terminals.
Campaigners for tighter control of the gaming industry said the introduction of hot food, at very low prices, appeared to be conceived of as a “starter”, an offer that made no money. but that makes people stay and spend the money on other things. .
Matt Zarb-Cousin, a recovering gambling addict, founder of Clean Up Gambling and former advisor to Jeremy Corbyn, said, “When the cheapest Main Street sausage and egg muffin is in William Hill, you start. asking yourself is there as a lead product, in an attempt to generate new customers.
The criticism comes with the gaming industry under increased scrutiny, as the government prepares to release a white paper that is expected to herald a rollback to the liberalization of gaming regulations that took place under Tony Blair in 2007.
Carolyn Harris, the Labor MP who chairs an all-stakeholder group examining gambling damage, said cafes appeared to be an example of the tools used by betting companies to get punters to gamble.
“It sounds like a cynical plot to keep customers at the bookies,” she said. “Yet another tactic of an industry determined to extract every pound it can from its customers.”
A spokesperson for William Hill said: “We are currently testing WH coffees at five of our 1,408 stores in the UK, and although the initial feedback from our customers is positive, there are no plans to roll out to the scale of the domain.
“All five stores are licensed to provide betting services and are registered with the relevant authorities to sell food and non-alcoholic beverages.
“The WH Café concept was born from customer suggestions and aims to improve our customer experience and not increase the time they spend in our stores. “