Cheap eats

Here’s something different. UK gambling giant William Hill is under attack in some circles for serving food at some of its retail betting shops. And not just any food: inexpensive, HOT food. The humanity.

The “WH Café” is currently in a test run at five of its outlets, less than half a percent of its total betting shops. According to The Guardian, some items on the menu include a sausage and egg muffin priced lower than an Egg McMuffin at McDonald’s and “Big Al’s Chicken Burger,” also less expensive than a similar item at the Golden Arches.

Some retail betting stores have served free tea, coffee, and small snacks, but a hot food menu like this is novel in the industry.

Opponents see it as a “cynical” move

The criticism William Hill is receiving is from those who want stronger restrictions on the gambling industry. They believe that the food is solely an attempt to draw more people into the stores, not for actual profit.

Matt Zarb-Cousin, founder of Clean Up Gambling, told The Guardian, “When the cheapest sausage and egg muffin on the high street is in William Hill, you start to wonder whether the food is there as a loss leader, in an attempt to generate new customers.”

Labour MP Carolyn Harris, who also chairs a committee that looks into gambling-related harm, said, “It looks like a cynical plot to keep customers in the bookies,” she said. “Yet another tactic of an industry hell bent on squeezing every pound they can out of customers.”

William Hill denies any strategic tactics other than providing customers a service for which they have asked.

“We are currently trialing WH Cafes in five of our 1,408 shops in the UK, and although early feedback from our customers is positive, there are no plans for an estate-wide rollout,” a William Hill spokesperson said.

“The five shops are licensed to provide betting services and are registered with the relevant authorities to sell food and non-alcoholic beverages.

“The WH Cafe concept was born out of customer suggestions, and it is aimed at improving our customer experience and not at increasing the amount of time they spend in our shops.”

Is it a reasonable criticism?

I get where the critics are coming from. They want people who are interested in gambling to go to a William Hill location, place their bets, and leave. They don’t want any other reason for people to stay there aside from gambling. It’s an understandable position.

At the same time, though, it seems like an awfully big ask of William Hill to not make even just a few locations more pleasant to frequent, especially if customers really have asked for some food purchase options.

Even if the hot food menu was implemented specifically to attract more customers and keep them there longer, it doesn’t seem to be unethical or something untoward. It’s just a convenience that makes visiting the betting shop more enjoyable. Other businesses can do it. Target has a Starbucks and a Pizza Hut Express in-store and nobody claims that’s as “cynical” ploy to keep people shopping for longer.

Sure, gambling and shopping are different, obviously, but if you’re going to complain about William Hill making people’s visits more pleasant, then just go all the way and either ban niceties or ban gambling altogether.

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