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UK – British casinos volunteer more COVID restrictions in order to reopen

By - 23 November 2020

Casinos have offered to voluntarily introduce fresh COVID restrictions in order to be allowed to re-open in Tier 3 areas after the latest English lockdown.

The Betting and Gaming Council has welcomed the Government’s decision to let betting shops re-open in Tier 3 areas with severe restrictions in place. Boris Johnson confirmed the move as he set out details of how England will come out of the national lockdown from December 3.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher also vowed to keep fighting for the re-opening of casinos, which have been told they must stay closed in Tier 3.

In a direct plea to Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, Betting and Gaming Council Chief Executive Michael Dugher said the venues will go even further than they already have to ensure they are COVID-secure. The unprecedented offer came as it emerged that six casinos have closed their doors for good this year, with one operator forced to cut its workforce by more than 40 per cent.

Both casinos and betting shops have operated safely since re-opening in the summer, with no evidence that they have contributed in any way to the spread of coronavirus. However, the Government has ruled that those in Tier 3 areas must close. Betting shops are the only part of non-essential high street retail to be treated this way.

In letters to Cabinet Office minister Mr. Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Mr. Dugher sets out the extra steps casinos and betting shops will take in order to have the punishing restrictions lifted. The casinos say they are prepared to stop live gaming such as table roulette, blackjack and poker.

The number of people allowed inside the venues would be limited to 25 per cent of capacity, while they would also stop selling alcohol altogether if allowed to stay open after the 10 p.m. curfew, when they normally do up to 70 per cent of their trade.

Both sectors hope that the enhanced safety measures will persuade the Government to allow them to open in Tier 3 areas once the current lockdown ends. Between them, casinos and betting shops employ 54,000 people and pay £1.5bn a year to the Exchequer. In addition, casinos generate £120m a year in tourism spend, while betting shops pay £280m a year to horseracing in media rights and levy payments.

In his letters, Mr 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 customer 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.”

At the moment, betting shops are the only part of non-essential High Street retail which must close their doors in Tier 3 areas.

Under the new arrangements, they will be allowed to open with some restrictions in place, including limits on customers, the removal of chairs and a ban on live sport being shown. These are on top of the anti-Covid measures which betting shops have already installed, including hand sanitisers, Perspex screens, track and trace systems and strict social distancing.

Mr. Dugher said: “This is great news for our customers in communities across large parts of England and for the thousands of people employed in high street betting shops. I know how hard in particular the DCMS battled for their sectors and ministers deserve our sincere thanks. “On top of the stringent anti-Covid measures betting shops already adhere to, our members have agreed to further restrictions to limit any chance of Covid being transmitted in their premises.

“We now look forward to England coming out of lockdown next week, with betting shops back contributing to the Exchequer and playing their part in helping power the country’s economic recovery. It’s also great that limited numbers of spectators will be allowed back to watch live sport in Tiers 1 and 2. The ban on crowds has been devastating for sports like horse racing and football, so this sensible step comes at just the right time.”

However, Mr Dugher expressed disappointment that casinos will have to remain closed in Tier 3 areas.

He said: “Casinos are best-in-class amongst the hospitality sector when it comes to anti-Covid measures. There is no evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus. So it remains extremely disappointing that they are still being ordered to close in Tier 3 areas. We do welcome the decision to extend the hospitality curfew by an hour to 11pm, but we will continue to make the case that casinos are uniquely exposed to any curfew and we will press for their full and safe reopening in all parts of the country.”

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