Recent newspaper stories have drawn attention to the fact that in an 8 month period in 2015 betting shops made 633 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) to the National Crime Agency. These stories have gone on to suggest that there is an epidemic of crime in betting shops. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Firstly it is important to set the numbers in context. In 2014/2015 there were in fact a total of 350,000 SARs submitted by retailers, financial institutions and groups such as estate agents. If the figures for bookmakers are annualised, the sector represents just 0.03% of total SARs. Indeed 9,000 bookmakers generated approximately the same number of SARs as 140 casinos in the UK. Similarly, the figures suggest that at least 93% of betting shops reported no suspicious activity at all in the period covered.
The reality is that anyone looking to launder money would sensibly steer well clear of the high street bookmakers. CCTV, smart technology and highly trained staff combine to mean that anyone looking to launder money stands a high chance of getting caught. This is especially the case given the close and positive working relationships that bookmakers enjoy with the police and specialist crime agencies.
SARs are an important tool for communicating concerns that may arise and building a dialogue between bookmakers and law enforcement. The 633 SARs quoted in the newspaper stories will constitute concerns around a range of activities, from over the counter betting to staking on machines. The reason for suspicion may be that an individual is laundering money, but it is just as likely to be a concern that someone is using the proceeds of crime to fund their gambling. Either way, such activity is rare and in many cases the bookmakers will have gone on to work closely with law enforcement agencies to further investigate the concerns and help bring the relevant individuals to justice.
High street bookmakers are, and will remain, the safest places to gamble in the UK.