The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has once again urged the Scottish and Welsh governments to reopen its casino venues.
Earlier this month, the English government announced that all casino venues in England will be allowed to reopen from August 1st, more than four months after the government announced its COVID-19 lockdown, and after most shops, restaurants, and other places reopened.
The news was applauded by people within the gambling industry, particularly by the Betting and Gaming Council who had urged the government time and again to reopen England’s casino venues. Now, the firm has turned its attention to Scotland and Wales, both of which haven’t yet opened its casinos.
In a statement to the Daily Record, a BGC spokesperson said: “We were delighted when the UK government announced that casinos in England could reopen from 1 August. It was a tremendous boost for their staff and customers, but also for the Treasury, which has been spending £5 million a week on furlough costs for casino workers during lockdown.
“It is now time for ministers in Edinburgh and Cardiff to end the uncertainty which still faces 2,000 casino staff in Scotland and Wales by giving them a date for re-opening. Businesses need clarity and so far this has been lacking from both administrators. We urged them tow rok with casinos to allow them to reopen safely.”
The BGC also highlighted how casino venues across the country have introduced numerous coronavirus measures to help protect players and employees. These measures include hand sanitiser stations throughout venues, social distancing guidelines, perspex screens, as well as frequent and deep cleaning on all seats, tables, gaming machines, casino chips, and more.
In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We don’t want any businesses to remain closed, or open with restrictions in place, for a day longer than is necessary but public health is paramount. We are keeping the situation under review.”
Last week, the BGC warned the Scottish Government that hundreds of jobs at risk at independent betting shops and casinos as the government refuses to greenlight casino reopenings and has excluded both casinos and betting shops from its business rates relief to help them with the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, the Scottish Government has excluded betting shops and casinos from its business rates relief scheme. John Heaton, the boss of Scottish betting chain shop Scotbet, has said betting shop’s exclusion from the relief scheme will cost him around £400,000.
He told the BGC: “We feel very frustrated that we haven’t had the financial support independent bookmakers in England and others in the betting and gaming sector here in Scotland have received. The sums involved are not material to the large bookmakers but, for us, it is about survival. The likely impact is that the independent sector will die and the big bookmakers carry on regardless, grateful that their independent competitors have been removed for them.”
Scotland allowed betting shops to reopen on June 29 with certain restrictions including a ban on gaming machines. Michael Dugher, the Chief Executive at the BGC, agreed with Heaton’s comments, saying in a news post: “We were delighted when the Scottish Government listened to us lifting the restrictions, which has led to a fall in turnover of up to 95 per cent compared to pre-lockdown in some shops.
“We are now calling on them to apply the business rates relief and grant support that offers in our industry have received to betting shops. These businesses employ thousands of men and women across Scotland, and they deserve their government’s full support now that they are back at work. If they don’t get it, many will sadly lose their jobs as their shops are forced to close.”
He added: “The Scottish Government needs to pull out all the stops to prevent that from happening and ensure betting shops can play their part in getting the economy back on its feet.”
The news comes just days after the Scottish Government sparked criticism for its u-turn on gaming machines. The government allowed betting shops to reopen on June 29th with limitations put in place including a ban on gaming machines. On July 22nd, Scotland announced a lift on the restrictions, allowing customers to gamble with them.
Days later, however, the Scottish Government made a sharp u-turn and implemented the restrictions once more, sparking outrage amongst the gambling industry. According to reports, Scotland has decided to implement the restrictions again and ban gaming machines in fear that they could help spread COVID-19.
In an open letter to BGC’s Michael Dugher, a spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance.
“The precise definition of amusement arcades and the use of gambling machines in different locations is a complex area with overlapping considerations that are difficult to assess. The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore, the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”
Brigid Simmonds, Labour MP and the Chair of the BGC, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously. Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.”
“I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”
It’s unclear whether or not the Scottish Government will turn back on its ban on gaming machines, and when it will provide casino venues with the green-light to reopen. Until then, anyone looking to gamble will have to do so at online casinos across the UK, if you’re looking for suggestions you can find some of our top recommendations right here.