“Here we go again” was the common response last week around the UK last weekend when Prime Minister Boris Johnson broadened what had been regional shutdowns to the second national lockdown. That included casinos and bookmakers, most of whom were only open for less than two months. Johnson said the lockdown would last only until December 2, but the first lockdown was extended many times, especially for gaming establishments.
In addition to casinos and betting shops, pubs, restaurants, retailers and any non-essential business was to shut down for a month. What wasn’t shut down this time is sporting events. Midway through the football season, the Premier League will keep playing, without fans in attendance, as it has been all year. Mobile betting apps will clearly be utilized with the high-street shops shuttered.
Noting the previous experience with gaming establishments being closed long after other segments were reopened, the British Betting and Gaming Council urged the government to take a “science-based approach” to a second reopening.
BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher pointed out that casino and betting shops have spent millions of pounds ensuring that their locations are safe and secure and any delay in reopening once the current lockdown is lifted, will only be arbitrary.
“Nothing matters more to our industry than the safety of our staff and customers, which is why we want to contribute to the national effort to defeat this virus,” said Dugher.
“We also welcome the support for businesses forced to close under the second lockdown.
“But when we exit this, the government must have a science-led approach and avoid the arbitrary and unnecessary decisions that led to random closures of casinos and betting shops, which damage employment and revenues to the Exchequer.”
Dugher pointed out that while betting shops were allowed to open following the first lockdown, it was another six weeks before casinos were permitted to reopen.
“It’s also important that when the latest lockdown is over, betting shops are allowed to open safely along with other non-essential retail, as they were in June,” he says. “Casinos, which have the best anti-Covid measures operating anywhere in hospitality and entertainment, should also reopen at the same time.”
Additionally, Dugher explains that betting shops are a principle agent for funding some of the sports leagues and organizations.
“At a time when there is widespread despair among sporting bodies,” he says, “the government also needs to recognize that a healthy betting industry is vital to the funding of sport, and that betting shops in particular are critical to the financing of horseracing.”
Meanwhile, Scottish casinos were forced to close last week when the government elevated them to Level 2, meaning that they spread Covid. Casino owners vigorously disagreed.
John O’Reilly, the MD of Rank’s Grosvenor casinos in Scotland, pointed out that his casinos have gone to extraordinary lengths to be safe.
“In our five Scottish casinos, we have ID scanning technology which captures the data of every customer entering our venues,” he says. “Thus far, across the UK, we have had over 400,000 customer visits from over 135,000 customers and we are aware of just two cases of customers having been positively tested for the coronavirus, neither of which have been in Scotland.
“Our venues are indisputably Covid-secure. Why must they therefore close in Level 2 whilst other hospitality industries can remain open?
“I write to you utterly confused as to why our venues must close in Level 2, extremely worried on behalf of thousands of my Rank colleagues who now face enormous job insecurity in Scotland which need not be the case, and in the hope that even at this late stage, you will follow the evidence.
“If we are treated in line with other areas of hospitality, we will be able to protect jobs, safely give Scottish customers something to be cheerful about, and play a full part in Scotland’s economic recovery.”