The men who come in to play the roulette machines do not talk to each other. They play quickly, silently and leave."I've never been on those machines. It's only for mugs. People get hooked on them. They put their money in, money in, money in," Charlie says.But the older punters realise the betting shops would probably go bust without the roulette machines. William Morgan, 72, a retired coach operator, who once had a gambling problem but now spends only ￡2-3 a day, says: "Quite honestly I don't know how the betting shops would survive without them. You can't rely on the horses any more."
George Moakes, Roar's operations director, says that about seven years ago, betting shops would make around 85% of their profits from over the counter bets on football, horses and greyhounds; now that has dropped to around 50%, with the rest drawn in from the machines. Fewer people understand how to lay bets on horses, he says, and competition from internet betting has taken some of the bigger punters away from high street bookies, and even their online outlets, in search of the most competitive odds.
He points to the complex, small-print daily racing information pinned to the noticeboards as partial explanation, suggesting the cultural knowledge and linguistic ability required to follow horses, jockeys and trainers could be beyond a lot of his customers. "They struggle reading all this, but the roulette machine is simple," he says.Sheffield has been working in betting shops in the area for 31 years, and also laments the dwindling numbers who follow the horses, which she sees as a safer way of betting. "It's easier to be in control if it's the horses and the greyhounds, but the new generation have grown up with roulette – they haven't got a clue about the horses. The older ones might follow the horses, the jockeys, the trainers. The young ones wouldn't take the time to look at the form. It's a shame really."
She has noticed that punters betting on horses are more likely to be philosophical about losing. "If you bet on the races and you don't win, you think, I'm having no luck today, I'm off. But with the machine there is more of a buzz."She knows when trouble is likely to break out. "I know by their mannerisms. They get louder and they bang the screens and they might kick the machines, then they come up and tell me the machines are fixed. We say: 'They're not fixed.'