The Betting and Gaming Council has written an open letter to the UK Government urging it to rethink the closure of casinos and betting shops under the new Covid-19 restrictions.
Last week, the Government implemented a new three-tier system through which regions across the countries are placed into different categories based on the number of Covid-19 cases. Each category brings new restrictions, such as the closure of all gambling venues in tier three.
Lancashire and Merseyside have been in tier three for several days while Manchester will be moving into the third tier on Friday (October 23rd) and South Yorkshire moving into the tier on Saturday (October 24th). Several other regions like London and Essex have been placed into tier two, while much of the rest of the UK remains in tier one.
In a letter to UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma, Betting and Gaming Council Chief Executive Michael Dugher has urged the UK Government to allow casinos and betting shops to reopen under tier three restrictions since many other shops and gyms have been allowed to remain open.
Dugher also expressed concern in the letter that the closure of gambling venues may also be extended into current tier-two regions if they’re bumped to the third tier, and he has urged the leaders of tier two regions to oppose the closure of said venues.
The letter reads: “There are currently just over 6,700 shops employing nearly 40,000 staff across the country, the majority of which are female. The singling out of betting shops for closure is unfair, unnecessary and runs counter tot he sensible approach the government had previously adopted.
“This decision looks ill-informed, arbitrary, and along with plans to clod Covid-secure casinos (that had offered to give up selling alcohol) it frankly looks anti-gambling industry. It will have a hugely negative impact on our businesses and staff, despite their efforts to ensure a very safe environment for customers that is well beyond any other non-essential retail business.”
Dugher then points out that SAGE, the committee of scientific experts advising the UK Government on its response to the Covid-19 virus, had said that betting shops and casinos have a “minimal impact” on the spread of the virus before calling on additional support from the Government.
He adds: “I therefore would like to ask for your support to intervene on behalf of betting shops, an important part of high street retail and an industry that contributes over £3 billion in tax every year. I share 100 per cent the government’s determination to tackle the spread of Covid-19. The decision to close betting shops won’t help with that, but it does put in jeopardy an industry that will be much-needed to help power the economy and the Exchequer to recovery.”
The Betting and Gaming Council has been critical of the UK Government’s handling of casino venues and betting shops amid the Covid-19 pandemic. When lockdown began earlier this year, the venues were forced to close and were some of the last businesses to reopen back in August, a move which was heavily criticised by the gambling body.
More recently, the BGC has criticised the closure of gambling venues across Scotland as well as the closures in all tier-three regions. It’s also repeatedly called on the Government to provide more funding and support to the industry to keep it running. However, many firms have already confirmed permanent venue closures and job losses.
While working to provide the industry with more support and funding amid lockdown, the BGC has also been working hard to drive up standards within the online industry by implementing a new code of conduct to change the design and play of video slots.
The changes include a minimum game speed of 2.5 seconds per spin, as well as the banning of Turbo Play features which allow users to speed-up gameplay and the banning of multi-slot play which allows users to play more than one game at a time.
As mentioned, Manchester is set to enter the third tier of Covid-19 restrictions on Friday. The UK Government announced the news yesterday (October 20th) after several days of discussions with the region’s local leaders.
Under the restrictions, more than 400 betting shops and 12 casinos which employ around 3,000 people will be forced to temporarily close along with all pubs and bars unless they serve substantial meals.
In addition, residents within the region will be prohibited from socialising with people they do not live with and will be urged to avoid travelling under the restrictions. All parts of Greater Manchester, which includes Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Wigan, Trafford, Rochdale, Oldham, Salford, Tameside, and Stockport, will be affected.
Before the announcement, Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and local leaders had been locked in heated talks with the Government regarding financial support for the region.
As reported by CasinoBeats, Burnham and leaders opposed the Government’s proposal of a 67% furlough scheme, compared to the 80% furlough scheme during the first lockdown, and claimed the Government had “walked away” after they requested a £65 million business bailout package for the city.
The Government reportedly only offered a non-negotiable £60 million package, causing discussions to break down and the automatic imposition of tier-three restrictions.
Alongside Manchester, it’s been announced today by Sheffield City Mayor Dan Jarvis that South Yorkshire will be moving into tier-three on Saturday. Restrictions like those imposed on Greater Manchester will apply to the South Yorkshire region which covers Barnsley, Sheffield, Rotherham, and Doncaster.
According to reports, local leaders of the region have agreed to a £41 million financial package which will include £30 million to support the region’s businesses and £11 million for local authorities to support public health measures.
West Yorkshire, the North East, Teeside, and Nottinghamshire are tier-two regions which are currently in discussions to be moved to tier-three where they will face tighter restrictions, although nothing has been confirmed yet.