Gambling venues across England have proposed additional COVID-19 Restrictions to ensure their reopening once the English lockdown has ended.
Casinos and betting shops across England with the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) have issued a plea to Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, offering to introduce further COVID restrictions in a bid to allow their businesses to re-open under Tier 3 restrictions after December 2nd.
The plea comes after the BGC confirmed the permanent closure of six casinos and claims that one other operator has been forced to cut its workforce by more than 40% as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and its related restrictions.
In an open letter to Cabinet ministers Gove and Hancock, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher explained how casinos and betting shops are ready to go further than they already have to ensure they are COVID-secure.
According to Dugher, the casinos have said they are prepared to stop all live gaming such as roulette, blackjack, and poker, and that the number of guests allowed inside venues will be limited to 25% of capacity. The casinos have pledged to stop selling alcohol if they’re allowed to remain open past 10 PM.
Dugher also explained that betting shops would limit how much time customers stay inside the venue, limit the number of people allowed in betting shops at any one time, and close all vending and hot drink facilities.
Both betting shops and casinos hope that the additional restrictions will help persuade the UK Government to allow all gambling venues to re-open under Tier 3 restrictions once England’s lockdown ends.
In the letter, Dugher said: “Our members are fully supportive of the Government’s efforts to tackle COVID. That is why betting shops have, in my view, the most stringent anti-COVID measures in place of any other comparable part of the High Street, and why casinos similarly have best-in-class anti-COVID measures compared with any other part of hospitality.
“As you can imagine, they are deeply concerned about the huge negative impact that closure of their businesses is having on their staff, customers, suppliers, and indeed sport, whilst having a negligible impact on the R rate.
“But, in order to give further reassurance to you and the public that opening these businesses in Tier 3 is possible, our members have offered to introduce further restrictions on for example customers numbers, facilities, and products available.”
He added: “The impacts of the pandemic are already being felt by the casino sector. There have been substantial reductions in employment with one operator having reduced its workforce by over 40 per cent to date.
“Casino businesses had strong balance sheets at the start of the year, the same is no longer the case with costs during closure amounting to up to £15 million per month for some operators.”
Then, urging the Government once again to consider re-opening gambling venues after lockdown, Dugher said: “I would be extremely grateful if you could give serious consideration to these measures which are proactively offered up by our members to provide further reassurance that they are safe to re-open in Tier 3 areas.
“On a personal note, I fully understand the demands that are being made of you in this unprecedented crisis and you have all my support and sympathy. I do hope you and your officials can look kindly at these proposals on behalf of very many businesses and thousands of employees.”
The news comes after hundreds of betting shops in Scotland were forced to close last week under new COVID-19 restrictions set out by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and after the Scottish casino industry partnered to launch a new campaign urging the Scottish Government to reconsider the closure of venues under COVID-19 restrictions.
Casinos and betting shops in England re-opened in August following the end of the first UK-wide lockdown and operated safely for several months. During that time, a 10 PM curfew was imposed on all venues.
What’s more, although there was no evidence that gambling venues have contributed to the spread of Coronavirus, all gambling venues including betting shops were told to shut under Tier 3 restrictions while other non-essential businesses were not.
The BGC has extensively campaigned for the re-opening of casino venues across the United Kingdom. Earlier this month, the organisation praised Wales’ re-opening of casinos and betting shops after the country ended its two-week “fire break” COVID lockdown. It’s also criticised the way Scotland has handled its COVID-19 restrictions with gambling venues.
Meanwhile, the BGC has been working with the UK Gambling Commission to raise standards within the online gambling industry. Last month, the BGC and the Gambling Commission launched a new code of conduct on the design and play of video slots, removing several key features.
The BGC also implemented new measures in October to crack down on the number of under-18s exposed to gambling ads. The rules require all BGC members to ensure that all sponsored and paid social media advertisements are targeted only to people aged over 25.
The two organisations have this year also launched a whistle-to-whistle ban on gambling advertisements during televised live sports events and games, and implemented a ban on the use of credit cards for gambling both online and offline.
All of these new rules and regulations come as the UK Gambling Commission confirmed this month in a brand new report that the online gambling market has seen an increase in activity and revenue between March and September 2020.