Tattoo Parlours vs Bookmakers: Who Dominates the High Street?

A tattoo shop on the high street
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The British high street is changing. Stores are closing by the hundred day-by-day, and town centres are now defined by a few surviving industries. Two things they are seemingly full of are tattoo parlours and bookmakers. But that’s not to say both industries are healthy. Why is it that tattoo parlours are thriving when even the bookies are starting to feel the pressure of the economic climate?

The Rise of the Tattooed

Tattoos in their current form can be traced back to the 18th century, when their name was borrowed from Polynesian culture. In Samoan, the word “tatau” meant “to strike”. It is thought that the first ever tattoo could have been as far back as 10,000 BC. The word was brought to Europe by the famous explorer Captain James Cook when his ship HMS Endeavour sailed the Pacific Ocean. Tattoos have since been used to describe body art that was previously referred to as painting, staining, or scarring.

Since the dawn of humanity, tattoos have been a symbolic way for a person to express their identity. People from around the world have used body art to pay homage to their ancestors and culture. In Western culture, tattoos have become a way for individuals to rebel, similar to how smoking is interpreted. They help people stand out from the crowd.

A popular tattoo choice for people
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More recently, tattoos have become more mainstream. It seems you stand out more now if you don’t have a tattoo. You’ll probably struggle to find a celebrity without body art of some sort.

Why Tattoos?

There are a number of reasons why people opt to have tattoos these days. Their significance goes beyond simply wanting to rebel or make a statement. A lot of the instigating factors behind people getting tattoos are positive ones. This goes a long way to explaining why tattoos are growing in popularity, even if some people go on to regret getting tattooed (and you can read up on the odds of that in our feature article).

Cultural tattoos are used for an individual to pay tribute to their background. They are seen as a rite of passage, or giving a sense of belonging to a group. They are also applied for medical reasons, to show where certain instruments should be placed or how a certain procedure should be handled. Even something simple like a tattoo of an Alzheimer’s patient’s name can have a huge impact on their life.

More and more people are also turning to tattoos as a form of cosmetic treatment. It can be used to cover up a scar, birth mark, or other aesthetic issue on a person’s body. Why get a mole removed when you can have a really cool looking tattoo applied over it?

There have also been less positive uses for tattoos. Across history they have been applied as a form of identification or ownership. The Nazis tattooed prisoners in their concentration camps, and soldiers were tattooed during the time of the Roman Empire. In essence, they’ve been used by certain individuals to express power over others.

A tattoo that was used during Auschwitz to identify prisoners
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Other unwanted tattoos include ‘traumatic tattoos’, formed when particular substances get into skin wounds. For example, coal miners were often left with these tattoos after coal dust got into wounds they suffered down the mines.

Some sufferers have used further tattooing to take ownership of their tattoo and turn the negativity around. They might get a previous tattoo changed or covered by another to show that they have risen above bad experiences or prejudice.

Will Bookmakers Disappear?

A few things always felt like they would be ever-present on the high street. Bookmakers, pubs, post offices, and convenience stores were just some of those. The traditional bookmaker is still standing tall, but the rise of online gambling has delivered a blow to the revenues of land-based premises.

A chart to show the number of betting shops in the UK from 2009 to 2017

In March 2009, there were 8,354 land-based bookmakers operating across the UK. This number peaked at 9,128 premises in March 2011, and sadly it’s been a downward spiral ever since. The number of operating premises stands at 8,532 in 2018.

The plight of the high street bookies is at odds with the gambling industry as a whole, which has increased its revenues by 65% since 2007 to reach £14 billion per year. The Gambling Act 2005 undoubtedly had a massive impact on those revenues, but why have bookmakers started to close en masse over the past 7 years?

Bookmakers appearing throughout a high street
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Clearly the stats need to be broken down. Even though the overall number of bookmakers on the high street is falling, the larger companies are feeling the heat a bit less than the independent bookies.

Many larger sports betting firms have an online presence. They cater to the rise in online gambling by syncing up a number of products from their land-based betting shops with their online products. For example there’s the Grid card offered by Ladbrokes, and William Hill allows punters to withdraw online winnings at their local store.

Independent bookies with no online presence to offer this function are losing out to the monster that is gambling online. It’s no wonder over 100 independent bookies closed last year alone.

Why Are Tattoo Parlours Outperforming Bookmakers?

Looking at the facts, it’s clear to see why the British public are flocking to the tattoo parlours instead of the bookmakers. You can’t log in to your favourite online tattoo parlour and get some body art done. Maybe one day, but until the technology exists the high street tattoo parlours are pretty safe, while the bookies lose trade to online betting.

An animal tattoo with fluorescent eyes
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Despite having some unsavoury connotations historically, tattoos are overwhelmingly a source for good these days. In terms of mental health, people are finding solace in getting a tattoo, whether it’s to mend heartbreak, cover up a scar, or to feel part of something special.

It could be argued that bookmakers also offer that sense of belonging. Heading down to the local bookies with your mates, chatting to the local know-it-all punter and soaking up the atmosphere was always appealing. That’s been lost with mobile and online betting.

Online apps are starting to control the betting industry
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Tattoos also offer something certain. When you pick a tattoo and pay for it you generally know what you’re getting (it might turn out a little different, but there’s a cowboy in every trade). Down the bookies, the level of uncertainty that lures people in can also turn them away. Put a £10 bet down and there’s no telling if the win will come. You can essentially pay just to feel deflated.

Is This the Future?

It is now estimated that 20% of the British public have at least one tattoo. There are now more tattoo parlours on the British high street than Costa Coffee or Starbucks. It’s not known if the number is higher than Greggs bakery or Tesco stores though.

The trend of tattoo parlours opening while bookmakers close is expected to continue to 2025. The high street landscape could be entirely different in 7 years’ time. Technology will change, social attitudes will alter, and the public perception of tattoos and betting will almost certainly shift between now and then.

For the time being, the UK has fallen in love with tattoos. The positives appear to far outweigh the negatives. That’s surely a good thing for British society. The down side is that it could come at the cost of other British institutions, such as the high street bookmaker.