ONE of East Lancashire's most popular betting chains has announced it will be shutting 700 stores - affecting around 4,500 staff.

William Hill, which has dozens of shops located around Blackburn, Darwen, Burnley and Accrington, has blamed the introduction of £2 maximum stakes for fixed-odds betting terminals.

Curbs on the terminals - dubbed the crack cocaine of gambling - came into force on April 1.

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones has one of the most outspoken critics of the effects of FOBTs on problem gamblers.

A William Hill spokesman said: "William Hill has entered into a consultation process with retail colleagues over plans to close around 700 licensed betting offices.

"This follows the government’s decision to reduce the maximum stake on B2 gaming products to £2 on 1 April 2019.

"Since then the company has seen a significant fall in gaming machine revenues, in line with the guidance given when the government's decision was announced in May 2018.

"A large number of redundancies is anticipated with 4,500 colleagues at risk. The group will look to apply voluntary redundancy and redeployment measures extensively and will be providing support to all colleagues throughout the process.

"Subject to the outcome of the consultation process, shop closures are likely to begin before the end of the year."

The chain has around 2,280 plus shops nationwide - with six located within Blackburn with Darwen alone - with two in Whalley New Road, and one each in Darwen Street, New Chapel Street in Mill Hill, Audley Range, Accrington Road and Darwen's Blackburn Road.

Earlier this year Betfred claimed it may have to shut 500 shops and Ladbrokes Coral estimated their potential losses at around 1,000 sites.

No locations have so far been confirmed by the company for the closures.