Staffless betting shops: the future for retail?

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The Irish retail betting landscape has come up against its fair share of challenges in recent years, with the introduction of a 2% tax on turnover over €2.5 million, the absence of a central gambling regulator and most recently the closure of all non-essential shops.

But despite these hurdles, fixed costs have remained at a steady level (and in some cases, have increased). 

Colm Finlay is the Founder / Director of BetXS – a subsidiary of Orchadia Systems. He told SBC News that between 85-90% of outgoings for ‘traditional’ shops are fixed, however an increased focus on variable costs can help bring a ‘breath of fresh air’ to the land-based sector.

He said: “Needless to say that the self-service, staffless shops operate on a much lower cost basis when compared to their traditional, manned shop counterparts. What’s happened in Ireland and the UK over the last 10 years or so is that as fixed costs have increased, certain towns and villages no longer have the population base for which to support those shops with high fixed costs. 

“If you look over here in Ireland, it’s not permissible to do single-manning because you’re expected to give your staff breaks after every three of hours of work done. After five hours of work, they are then permitted to take a full hour lunch break. The effect of that is that you can’t really operate a shop on a single-man basis. 

“When you then apply that to the quota of hours that a betting shop can open over the week, you’d really need four or five labour units to keep a betting shop open. From an Irish perspective that’s €100,000 – €110,000 in costs which are fixed and have to be serviced. 

“When you then bolt on the €47,000 in fees to media rights holders, the money that has to be paid to landlords and all of the other fixed costs associated with a manned shop, your fixed costs are exceeding the €200,000 mark with a few variable costs.”

He shared that a shift towards automation and “use of efficient and reliable technology” can help alleviate any risks of human error – with costs equating to approximately 35-40% of traditional shops. These costs, Finlay continued, are expected to drop even further through negotiations with rights holders such as SIS and TRP.

“With BetXS operating between 35-40% of the cost basis, with further decreases to those levels when we have a proper revenue-share / turnover-based arrangement in place with the rights holders, those costs will drop even further,” he continued. 

“What will then happen is that these remote communities can get their betting shops back. From a horse racing perspective, that’s great news. The expected revenue in terms of incomes for horse racing and for the Exchequer has dropped to zero. But we’re going to turn those zeros into something.” 

Now open in Rathcoole, Kilbeggan and Ballivor, all BetXS shops are run on a remote basis – with CCTV, shutters, security systems, displays and lights all controlled using a fully automated solution – and all bets placed and settled via self-service betting terminals (SSBTs). 

But with no carriage of goods, Finlay believes that the Irish land-based sector could wholly benefit from the roll-out of automated betting shops, bringing with it a whole host of benefits for local communities.

He added: “We don’t have a carriage of goods. Betting shops are so well suited to this model. Say if I was to have a shop in Cahersiveen in the ring of Kerry, that shop just has to open up tomorrow – I don’t have to bring any horse racing down there in a horsebox, unlike grocery shops I’m not having to unload a refrigerated lorry full of goods. 

“The broadband carries the content from whatever race track or football ground and brings it into these remote locations. Having no carriage of goods is great and it makes betting shops much more suited to automation – it makes betting shops much more viable.”

When it comes to responsible gambling measures, the BetXS Founder addressed the need for advanced facial recognition technology and artificial intelligence to identify and verify the age of a customer. 

The SSBTs[1] feature high-resolution biometric cameras which require a one-time sign up for bettors which appear to be under the age of 25. 

Finlay also highlighted the cross-network self-exclusion system, with that data then distributed across all Orchadia Systems shops – something which can help reduce levels of problem gambling. 

“Safer gambling is where I truly believe that Orchadia Systems is in a completely different league to the incumbent way of doing things,” he said. “From my experience as an experienced betting shop worker, I’ve received those self-exclusion forms from customers who no longer wish to bet. It’s not a very nice thing for the customer to have to endure. 

“We used to hand out an A4 sheet of paper where bettors had to fill in their name, address etc. They then had to attach a copy of their passport photo which was stapled to the form. This would disencourage people from submitting these details. It’s a very intrusive thing to do – especially given how tough it is for people to recognise that they have a problem gambling issue. 

“At Orchadia Systems, players can self exclude via their mobile application. They don’t need to speak to anyone. What is better is that this is then subsequently deployed to a network of shops operating on the Orchadia Systems platform. 

“That means a customer could call into a betting shop in John o’Groats, self exclude, jump on an airplane to Land’s End, walk into a betting shop and will also be instantaneously self-excluded.”

Reaffirming his belief that responsible gambling is at the front and centre of Orchadia Systems’ operations, Finlay went on to discuss the company’s plans to introduce budgetary, time and sport constraints.

He explained: “Where we step it up even further is that we’re not just limited to self-excluded. In our development pipeline, we’re working on introducing budgetary constraints. If a player is paid on a Friday evening, they go to the pub and try back a few winners – but by Saturday morning, all of their wages could be spent.  

“What we’re planning to do is enable the customers to set constraints – whether that be budget, time, or even sport. These are the kind of problem gambling tools that the industry really needs.

“Self-exclusion is not really a viable solution under the current system. Orchadia Systems[2] aims to change that by bringing a proper, meaningful safer gambling environment to punters all over Ireland, the UK and on a global scale. We’re not stopping here in Ireland, we’re taking this even further – that’s where our aspirations are.” 

With it increasingly likely that fixed costs for bookmakers will increase in 2021 in the wake of the pandemic, the prospect of automated betting shops can act as a cheaper, easier way for betting operators to reach their audience. 

From a bettor’s perspective, these shops can remodel the entire customer journey, with increased opening times and easy-to-use SSBTs meeting the needs of the tech-savvy punter. 

So as the retail sector looks to bounce back from the events of 2020, staffless, automated betting shops could become the ‘new normal’.


  1. ^ SSBTs (
  2. ^ Orchadia Systems (

Lorry driver’s death could be linked to Liverpool ferry journey

A lorry driver who had to travel from Liverpool via ferry for work died after contracting legionnaire’s disease.

Kevin Budd, 53, was admitted to the Royal Stoke University Hospital on August 27, 2018, after holidaying in Skegness.

He complained about experiencing shortness of breath and died days later on September 2, 2018.

An inquest heard his cause of death was given as diffused alveolar damage, legionnaire’s disease, and leukaemia.

Stoke-on-Trent Live[1] report the dates and incubation period of the disease indicate he may have caught the disease during a work trip that took him through Liverpool.

His job also involved travelling to North Wales and Ireland.

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Speaking in conclusion of the inquest in Stoke-on-Trent, the jury forewoman said: “Whilst on holiday Mr Budd became ill with a cold.

“Returning home his condition worsened. His condition got worse and he was admitted to hospital on August 27, 2018.

“He was placed into critical care. He was ventilated and placed into a coma and never regained consciousness.”

She added that the jury concluded that the legionella came “from an unspecified area”.

Doctor Nicol Coetzee, a consultant specialising in communicable diseases, was notified that Mr Budd had received a diagnosis of legionella on August 28, 2018, and began an investigation to find the source.

This consisted of tracing Mr Budd’s movements over the days where he was most likely to have picked up the disease, and cross checking it with data from places he visited to see if any cases were active in those places at the time of his visits.

These included trips to Ireland via ferry, setting out from Holyhead to Dublin, and returning via Liverpool.

No traces of legionella were found in any of the places that Mr Budd had visited over the last six months, or within a six mile radius of his home address in Stafford.

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But on September 7, 2018, five days after Mr Budd passed away, the ship Stena Adventurer, which is in the fleet that runs the route from Holyhead to Dublin, undertook a routine water sampling which found extremely high levels of legionella.

In one sample, they were over nine times the level designated as unacceptable.

The ship was given a “super-chlorination” in accordance with normal procedure, in which chlorinated water is flushed through the whole system to clear out any unwelcome microbes lurking in the water supply.

Lesley Cave, who works for the county council regulating water supplies, confirmed that she was requested to undertake the inspection as part of normal routine and that after the procedure it had once more reached a safe and acceptable level.

Ms. Cave was unable to say if Mr Budd travelled on the Stena Adventurer, and the cleaning process meant that it was impossible to confirm if the strain found on the ship was the same that Mr Budd contracted.

However, no other potential contacts were traced during Dr. Coetzee’s investigation, leaving open the possibility that Mr Budd may have contracted the disease during his ferry ride from Holyhead to Dublin.

Speaking in a statement to the inquest, pathologist Dr. Karthik Kalyanasundaram outlined legionella. He said: “Legionnaire’s disease is a severe pneumonia.

“Although this disease is an uncommon form of pneumonia data have shown that it is 2 to five times more common in men than in women.

“40-50% of cases are related to travel.”

Mr Budd was born in Wokingham on August 20 1965 and worked in the armed forces for 25 years as an electrician before entering civilian life as an HGV driver, a job which involved a great deal of travel.


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Nothing says ‘easiest trade deal in history’ quite like gunboats deployed to Jersey | Mark Steel

How dare the French assault poor little Jersey[1], whose only industries are fish, potatoes and international tax fiddling?

So send the gunboats, however many we need, because people are ANGRY about whelks. We can only hope they stay just as committed when this is resolved, and spend every day calling phone-ins to yell: “I WANT TO TALK ABOUT SCALLOPS! THEY NEED TO BE ROUNDER, AND MORE SQUISHY.”

When you see those adverts in which a young man from Blyth is “Made by the Marines[2]”, this is the sort of thing they’re talking about. Once they’re signed up, their life can begin as they do something exceptional, vital and historic, and sit outside Jersey in case a trawler from Normandy[3] catches a herring.

This is all because of[4] an argument about who can catch which fish, following Brexit. That makes sense, as we were promised Brexit was going to be the easiest trade deal in the world. And that’s worked out perfectly. Because sending gunboats to Jersey is always a sign of a deal having gone through easily. When the plumber fixes your radiators, you don’t want one of those complicated deals where he does the job and you pay him. It’s much easier if you have to send a gunboat to his house because the French have threatened to dynamite his garden shed.

The French government has threatened to turn off Jersey’s electricity, as if all Jersey’s power comes from an extension cable that reaches to Cherbourg. So the Telegraph reported that[5] “a government source said, ‘even the German occupation left the lights on’.” 

Congratulations. It was only ever going to be 30 seconds into this conflict until the war was mentioned, and this government source nipped in first. Because that’s the rule in Britain – any problem with anything European has to refer to the war. If the World Vegetable Society announced French beetroots are the juiciest in the world, 120 backbench MPs would be on daytime television saying: “This is an insult to all those who fought on D-Day. We stood alone in 1940 and that’s why we’re firing one French beetroot an hour out of a canon off the cliffs of Dover.”

By the weekend, dozens of people aged 70 will have been interviewed on the news, saying: “My generation was bravely born five years after the war ended, and despite this courage, we still have to sit by while French people are allowed to fish. Is it any wonder we don’t like Pakistanis?”

Another “government source” said: “I’m disappointed the EU has resorted to threats, rather than use the treaty to discuss the matter.” Yes, that is disappointing. Why would anyone, in a discussion between Britain and the EU, want to issue threats rather than discuss things nicely?

The French should learn to discuss matters with us calmly, the way we always did, and publish headlines in newspapers such as: “MY GRANDDAD FOUGHT AT AGINCOURT AGAINST THESE ARSEHOLES SO LET’S MAKE THEM SIT IN THE DARK.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg even declared that fish were happier for being British, which I’m sure they are, but hopefully it’s even better than that and soon he’ll announce they all went to Eton, not some scuzzy public school like Westminster. And he’ll report that a regiment of mackerel issued a statement that, “By God, we shall do our duty to the Queen and drift without fear or lassitude into British nets, carpe diem.”

The argument appears to be that French fishing boats haven’t been given the licenses they were promised to fish around Jersey. And those that have been given a license have also been given huge documents packed with restrictions. But since Brexit, each lorry-load of British fish must also go through seven stages of extra bureaucracy, before heading to Europe. And each lorry must be accompanied with seven extra pages of forms.

So all those years, when the anti-EU campaigners were moaning about the red tape our businesses had to deal with, what they must have meant is there wasn’t enough of it. They must have been thinking: “Why are fishermen allowed to catch fish without filling in thousands of extra forms? We demand a separate form for every single cockle.”

Since Brexit, lorries of British fish have had to go rotten while waiting for the extra forms to be completed, because the British government protects our British forms, that have kept this country going for thousands of years.

What we could have done, to protect our fishing industry, is use the amount wasted on a useless Track and Trace system and spread it among the fishermen. It was around £30bn that got lost, so for that money they could have nets made of silk, hand-woven by mountain people of the Andes, and placed in ice in which each cube has been personally blessed by the Dalai Lama. They could have each mackerel moulded into the shape of a historical figure, such as Abraham Lincoln or Jennifer Lopez, by a specialist fish sculptor.

But that’s not as much fun as sending gunboats, especially as Emanuel Macron and the French government are capable of being knobs as well, so this could escalate gloriously. One war between Britain and France lasted 100 years and no one can remember how that started, so this one could last longer than that if we play it right.

This is where we are in the world now. When superpowers went to the brink of annihilation in 1962, it was around the matter of whether a Soviet ally should place nuclear weapons in Cuba, a few miles from Florida. When Britain and France go to war, it’s because of a row about who gets the scallops.


  1. ^ Jersey (
  2. ^ Marines (
  3. ^ Normandy (
  4. ^ all because of (
  5. ^ reported that (

How the Irish Republic is making the best of Brexit

THE NEW trade frontier between Northern Ireland and the British mainland was intended as a conflict-prevention measure, allowing Great Britain to leave the European Union’s single market without reimposing a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic to the south. So far, not so good.

Unionist politicians, angered by disruption to shopping and trade with Great Britain, now call for the protocol that imposed a new Britain-Northern Ireland border to be scrapped. In Protestant areas of County Antrim youths rioted last month, egged on by loyalist paramilitaries. Last week Northern Ireland’s first minister, Arlene Foster, was forced to resign by her party, having reluctantly accepted the protocol as the least bad solution.

There has been much less fuss in the south, even though, in terms of trade with Britain, both parts of Ireland are in much the same post-Brexit boat. The Republic of Ireland has been independent from London since 1922, but Britain is still by far the biggest source of Irish imports of goods, at €17.8bn ($21.4bn) last year, and its fourth-largest customer for goods exports: €12.4bn in 2020. Consumers in both countries share many tastes, and until January 1st co-membership of the EU allowed British high-street retailers like Boots and JD Sports to treat the republic as a sub-region of their UK supply chains.

In Dublin, as in Belfast, grocery shelves in British-owned retailers grew notably barer after Brexit kicked in on New Year’s Day, although supplies have since recovered as businesses find ways to navigate the new system.

The mood is calmer in the south, partly because it saw the problem coming. Arnold Dillon of Retail Ireland, a trade group, says that the Irish government began planning for a worst-case hard Brexit right after the referendum in 2016. Northern Ireland was less well-prepared, not least because it had to wait until Christmas Eve to see the outlines of a last-minute trade deal. Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, made planning almost impossible by issuing contradictory statements, asserting that there would be no new customs border on the island of Ireland, no new regulatory checks between Britain and Northern Ireland, and yet also regulatory divergence between the UK and Europe. “Our experience is that the UK has been woefully, awfully, badly, naively underprepared for Brexit,” says Simon McKeever, the boss of the Irish Exporters Association.

Another difference in the south is that businesses and politicians expect to see benefits from Brexit, as well as losses. Kieran Donoghue, head of financial services at Ireland’s industrial-development authority, a state booster for investment, said that Ireland has already secured around 100 new investments and 6,000 jobs, half of them in finance, as UK-based businesses shift their headquarters out of London so as to retain an EU domicile and access to the European single market.

While red tape and delays have roughly halved lorry traffic on Ireland’s traditional “land bridge” across Britain to the rest of the EU, the number of direct ferry sailings from the Republic to the continent has gone up from around 12 a week to more than 40. Irish trade groups hope that Irish chains will now source more products locally, and replace UK supply hubs with local depots, creating new jobs.

Yet, as with Brexit itself, this isn’t all about money or trade. For a century since it won independence, the Republic of Ireland has tried to escape the shadow of its former colonial power and to reach out to the world. By contrast, Northern Ireland’s unionists and many pragmatic businesses have no interest in distancing themselves further from the rest of the UK.

“Even though most Irish people think that Brexit is crazy, the government here is realistic that you have to deal with what you get,” says Bobby McDonagh, a former Irish ambassador to London and senior diplomat in Brussels. “We still need to co-operate with London on Northern Ireland, and in other ways.”

For more coverage of matters relating to Brexit, visit our Brexit hub[1]

This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Pluses and minuses”


  1. ^ Brexit hub (