PINTS are set to be swapped for punts after a historic pub became odds-on to change into a bookies.
In a shock move, The Criterion could soon become the latest betting shop in the heart of South Shields.
Ladbrokes wants to spend £200,000 converting the eye-catching Victorian building at the junction of Ocean Road and King Street.
And the national chain has already filed two planning applications with South Tyneside Council.
It is bidding to alter the facia, and repair and make changes to other parts of the exterior ahead of more extensive works.
The firm said the move is a straight swap for the its Market Place outlet in Wouldhave House, which is set for demolition.
That could be pulled down later this year under council modernisation and regeneration plans.
A Ladbrokes spokesman said: “This is simply a relocation from the Market Place site. We’re hoping to open it in late September. There will be over £200,000 invested in converting and refurbishing the new venue, which we will lease.
“It will be kitted out with all our new technology like large touch screen TVs and touch-screen terminals.”
In November, the Gazette revealed how the pub was caught in Punch Tavern’s £3bn debt battle.
It was put up for sale at £250,000 by bosses desperate to cut operating costs and slash huge recent losses.
The Criterion is one of 2,600 leased premises the Burton-on-Trent-based chain has been trying to off-load.
Punch, which bought the business five years ago, had said it hoped it would continue to trade as a pub.
The premises consist of a ground-floor bar and first-floor function room with a catering kitchen.
On the second floor there is a two-bedroom flat, and three derelict rooms on the third floor.
It is not known if they will form part of Ladbrokes’ conversion.
Present landlord Hossain Babadi said: “I will be sad to see it go as pub if that is what happens. It is historic.
“I have heard Ladbrokes mentioned, but I don’t know for sure if they are buying it. I haven’t been told much.”
South Tyneside Council confirmed the planning applications were filed last week.
The public can comment on the bid via the council until May 9.
A spokesman said: “Planning permission is not required to turn it into a bookmakers as it is under the same classification as a pub under national guidelines.”
Conversion by Ladbrokes, which has other outlets in Ocean Road and Fowler Street, would cement the rise of bookmakers in South Shields town centre.
A BetFred branch opened 100m away in King Street two weeks ago, and Coral and William Hill trade nearby.
Within two weeks of going on the market, seven potential buyers – a national pub operator and six North East-based businessmen – viewed The Criterion.