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Business / ‘It’s been a very solo few months’ – Lerwick bookies thought to be only one in Britain open for Grand National

Shetland Turf Accountants manager Andrea McPherson. Photos: Shetland News

GRAND National day is usually one of the busiest of the year for bookies.

But when the horses hit the turf at the Aintree Racecourse on Saturday, it is thought that only one betting shop in the whole of the UK had been open that day as a result of Covid restrictions – Shetland Turf Accountants in Lerwick.

Manager Andrea McPherson said it has been a “very solo few months” for the shop.

Bookmakers are allowed to open under level three coronavirus restrictions in Scotland, which covers most of the country’s islands, but not the mainland.

Stornoway’s betting shop closed a few months ago, while Orkney has been without one for a number of years.

Mainland Scotland continues to be under level four restrictions, meaning that bookies there are closed, although the rules are likely to change on 26 April.

In England and Wales bookmakers were also closed until Monday, when some restrictions eased, while in Northern Ireland non-essential retail is shut.

It is believed then that Shetland Turf Accountants, snuck away down the steps from Specsavers, was the only bookies open in the UK for the Grand National.

McPherson said it was reasonably busy on Saturday. Trade was down around 50 per cent on previous years, “but it was still nice to see all the faces”.

The victor was Rachael Blackmore, the first female jockey to win the Grand National, whose horse Minella Times was an 11-1 shot.

“Even though we had advertised it, a lot of people still thought the Grand National wasn’t on, because it got cancelled last year,” McPherson said.

“It was good in a way because with Covid restrictions you’re only allowed so many people in the shop at one time.”

McPherson said betting on the Grand National can tend to be a family affair for locals, with people coming to put bets on for family members and watching it together.

“It’s quite a big tradition in Shetland, coming down on the Saturday and getting their bet on,” she said. “Usually going into the Thule and watching it, but obviously they’re not open. “

McPherson said the business reopened in September, with custom initially quite busy before things waned a little.

“But I think all the shops are suffering from that at the minute, with the footfall being down.”

As with other industries, the internet has encouraged more people to place bets on online – causing concern for the bricks and mortar bookies.

But locally the pool of regulars, and those from the older generation, has allowed the business to maintain steady custom.

“We do have quite a few older customers who still like to come in in person, and that’s quite a good thing,” she said.

For all the talk of horses, though, football remains the most popular sport for taking a punt on.

“It tends to be anything – internationals, Champions League,” McPherson said. “They’re very interested in their football in here.”