The Scottish Government has been criticised for its decision to delay casino reopenings after lockdown while allowing all other hospitality venues to open.
This week, Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for easing lockdown rules across the country in the coming months, starting from March 12, when households can mix outdoors for socialising and exercising, and March 15, when schools will reopen. In April, the stay at home restriction will be lifted, and non-essential shops will be allowed to reopen.
This will be followed by a return to the tiered lockdown system, with much of the country moving from level four into level three. Under the plan, all hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen under tier two, but casinos will need to wait until tier one.
The decision has sparked backlash from the gambling industry, with the Betting and Gaming Council and Grosvenor Casino calling on the government to amend its rules and allow casinos to reopen alongside other hospitality venues.
The call has been supported by hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley who has published a report, conducted by examining casino venues throughout Scotland, which found there was no “logical or scientific reason” for the delayed reopenings, with casinos appearing to be safer than most other hospitality venues.
Ackerley said of her study: “The casino industry has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by embracing the need to implement a full range of stringent measures to keep staff and customers safe.
“In my opinion, this industry’s response has resulted in it being as safe, if not safer, during the pandemic than many others, for example some other parts of the hospitality sector, where socialising and alcohol consumption is the norm.”
She continued: “I find that there is no reason for the casino industry to be treated more harshly in terms of lockdown measures than the rest of hospitality; in fact, it can be seen that the measures taken by casinos actually offer more protection to staff and the public.
“There seems no logical or scientific reason why the casino industry should be closed where pubs and restaurants are allowed to open in Scotland.”
Jonathon Swaine, the Managing Director of Grosvenor Casinos, issued a statement to the Betting and Gaming Council urging the Scottish Government to consider Dr Ackerley’s report and reopen casinos under tier two.
He said: “Dr Ackerley’s findings provide objective, scientific evidence that casinos have been treated unfairly and the time has come for the correction to be made. It clearly concludes that forcing casinos to remain closed in level two regions, whilst other hospitality businesses can open, is absurd.
“Her report reinforces the commitment and investment taken by an already highly regulated casino industry to leave no stone unturned when it comes to making our venues safe and secure for all of our colleagues and customers.”
He added: “We’re now appealing to the First Minister and the Scottish Government to pay heed to this compelling evidence. When parts of the country return to level two status, casinos must be allowed to open and the industry deserves to be treated with parity and fairness. All we ask is for an equitable approach to hospitality, based on the highest quality evidence that exists.”
Michael Dugher, the Chief Executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, echoed Swaine’s comments, urging the Scottish Government to follow all of the evidence. He said: “Ordering the closure of casinos in level two areas in Scotland was a needless blow for the 700 hardworking men and women that they employ.
“Despite repeated invitations, it is regrettable that no Scottish Government official has even visited any of our members’ casinos to see for themselves the excellent anti-Covid measures which they have put in place.”
He continued: “As Dr Ackerley’s report confirms, casinos are as safe, if not safer, than many other hospitality venues, such as pubs and restaurants, so why are they being treated differently? In England, casinos will be right safely reopened when the rest of the hospitality is.
“It is not too late for the Scottish Government to think again, follow the evidence and allow casinos to safely reopen in level two.”
Although the casino reopenings in Scotland have been heavily criticised, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s roadmap out of lockdown for England. Under the Prime Minister’s plan, betting shops will be allowed to reopen in April alongside all other non-essential retail shops. Meanwhile, casinos and bingo halls will only be allowed to reopen in May alongside all other hospitality, including restaurants and bars.
The Prime Minister’s roadmap was praised by members of the gambling industry, including the Betting and Gaming Council, for allowing casinos to reopen with other hospitality and for scrapping the controversial 10 PM casino curfew, which was implemented late last summer as part of a move to curb Covid infections.
Shortly after the announcement, the BGC and other members of the gambling industry called for a delay to the Grand National, the UK’s biggest horse race, as the event is set to take place two days before betting shops are allowed to reopen.
The BGC at the time said delaying the race could provide the UK with a “much-needed boost to racing and the high street” as nearly half of all bets on the event are placed at high street betting shops. Unfortunately, calls to delay the Grand National were rebutted, and the event is scheduled to take place on its original date of April 10th.