Britain risks permanently losing part of its rich tourism and entertainment heritage unless the Government moves fast to reverse a decision to force casinos to remain closed, the industry and standards body The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned.
World famous venues like the London Hippodrome in the city’s West End and Les Ambassadeurs casino in Mayfair are among just over 100 venues in England expressing grave concern about their future following the announcement by the Prime Minister that casinos, which had been given the green light by public health officials to reopen on August 1st, should remain shuttered.
At risk casinos include some of its most iconic businesses, from the high end membership club, Les Ambassadeurs casino in Mayfair, which attracts wealthy tourists from across the world. Les Ambassadeurs was featured in the James Bond movie ‘Dr. No’ and the Beatle’s film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. The London Hippodrome casino, opened by Boris Johnson as Mayor of London and home of the hit show Magic Mike Live, was in its former guise as the Hippodrome Theatre, the venue that played host to acts such as Harry Houdini and the legendary Talk of the Town series featuring Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra and The Jackson 5. The Hippodrome hosted the first official jazz gig in the UK by the original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1919 and it also gave Julie Andrews her stage debut at the age of 12.
The BGC has called for an extension of the Government’s Job Retention scheme as casinos are faced with an additional £14 million bill following the government’s U-turn.
Casinos are part of the world class leisure and hospitality industry in the UK that help attract visitors from around the world, with London continually ranked in the top three casino cities in the world. Casinos contribute over £300 million every year to the UK tourism economy.
However, with casinos across England forced to remain shuttered until at least 15th August, the BGC has warned that up to 6,000 jobs may be permanently lost – half the number supported by the sector. However, this number will only increase as the Government’s support schemes are withdrawn and casinos remain closed.
For every week that casinos remain closed, the costs to casinos are mounting as the Government tapers the furlough scheme and forces companies to pay National Insurance and pension contributions for staff, even though they remain closed.
MPs and Peers from across the political spectrum have written to the Prime Minister highlighting the plight of casinos.
Casinos have invested heavily to ensure their premises are Covid-secure, with measures such as perspex screens, sanitisation equipment and sophisticated track and trace systems, as well as strict social distancing measures and hygiene protocols.
They were given the green light to reopen on August 1 by Public Health England after officials physically visited a London casino to see for themselves the safety measures put in place by casino operators. The decision to re-open was announced by the Prime Minister on 17th July only to be reversed on 31st July – just 12 hours before operators were due to open. The sector is believed to have spent £6m readying to reopen.
BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said: “World famous and iconic venues like the Hippodrome and Les Ambassadeurs are not just part of our proud past, they want to be part of economic revival in the future. They are not looking for a hand out – they are looking to help out. By reopening safely so they can play their part in contributing to getting the economy moving again and to contributing vital tax revenues to the Exchequer.
“Some of Britain’s most iconic casinos, who attract high spending visitors from around the world, are sitting idle whilst pubs and restaurants round the corner are open and doing a roaring trade.
“The Government must step in to save these businesses before it’s too late. As a first step, they should extend the full furlough scheme to help offset the £14 million casinos are expected to lose as a result of the two week delay and compensate casinos for the wasted costs of the late change of decision on their reopening.
“Casino operators have done everything asked of them by Public Health England. They have gone to extraordinary lengths and cost to ensure their venues are Covid secure. They were rightly given the green light to reopen by public health officials who recognised the significant investment operators had made and the negligible risk they posed”.
Meanwhile, casino operators have agreed to donate £200,000 worth of fresh food and drink brought in for reopening on 1st August to local charities.