Employees arrived at work to be told this morning at more than 2,000 betting shops across the country that up to 4,500 jobs could be slashed.
The company blamed the government’s new £2-a-spin cap on fixed-odds machines for the planned closures, a move intended to cut problem gambling but putting the future of leading firms’ branches at risk.
One staff member fought back tears as she told Yahoo Finance UK she feared central London branches like hers could be most at risk because of higher rents.
She said many of her colleagues were angry, with staff still waiting to hear if their own branches and jobs faced the axe. They were given only the nationwide figures for the number of potential closures and job losses, leaving their own futures up in the air.
“It’s been dealt with really badly. A lot of people are really pissed off. Some have worked here all their lives; they don’t have any other skills,” she said.
But several customers at two London branches said they welcomed efforts to prevent gamblers becoming hooked and limit their losses, despite their sympathy for staff.
John Eckles, speaking outside the William Hill on Hatton Garden, said: “I think those machines were designed from the beginning to rip people off. They should have capped stakes long ago, nipping it in the bud before it started.
“A lot of men lost their wives, families, homes - they even rob their own children. I’ve met a couple of guys who’ve fallen into debt.
“I play just 20p a spin, but I’ve seen some people lose £8,000 in a day. But I feel sorry for the staff.”
Rabi Basna, 30, a customer at another branch nearby, said it was “good to stop people” suffering heavy losses.
But he added: “I’m worried for the staff. It’s sad for the people who work there, and it’s going to cost the government if people end up on benefits.”
The company has repeatedly warned the cap could put jobs at risk, and said in its annual results in March that “up to 900 shops could become at risk of closure” due to the reforms introduced earlier this year.
Additional reporting by Edmund Heaphy and Oscar Williams-Grut.