Shock news – no business rates relief for casinos, bingo clubs and betting shops

The Government has now published guidance to local authorities on the extension of retail rates relief to the hospitality and leisure sectors in England and Wales, announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 17 March 2020. The retail rates relief scheme provides for a 100% exemption from business rates for business falling within those sectors (regardless of the rateable value of their premises) for the year 2020/21.

The newly published guidance (that can be downloaded below) indicates that the businesses that will benefit from the relief will be those that occupy properties (including those closed temporarily for coronavirus reasons) used wholly or mainly:

  • as shops, restaurants, cafes, drinking establishments, cinemas or live music venues;
  • for assembly and leisure;
  • as hotels, guest and boarding premises and self-catering accommodation.

However, it now appears that casinos, bingo clubs and betting shops will not qualify for business rates relief. Paragraph 16 of the guidance states:

The list below sets out the types of uses that the Government does not consider to be an eligible use for the purpose of this relief. Again, it is for local authorities to determine for themselves whether particular properties are broadly similar in nature to those below and, if so, to consider them not eligible for the relief under their local scheme.

  • i. Hereditaments that are being used for the provision of the following services to visiting members of the public:
    • Financial services (e.g. banks, building societies, cash points, bureaux de change, payday lenders, betting shops, pawn brokers)
    • Other services (e.g. estate agents, letting agents, employment agencies)
    • Medical services (e.g. vets, dentists, doctors, osteopaths, chiropractors) − Professional services (e.g. solicitors, accountants, insurance agents/ financial advisers, tutors)
    • Post office sorting offices
    • Casinos and gambling clubs

One can’t help but wonder whether the decision to exclude “casinos and gambling clubs” (wholly disregarding the fact that they are used for the sale of food and drink to visiting members of the public) and betting shops (by including them within the classification of “financial services”) may be influenced by the turn of the political tide against the gambling industry some 15 years after the then government enacted gambling legislation that reflected its opinion that the commercial provision of gambling fell within the category of a leisure industry.

Unsurprisingly, the Betting and Gaming Council has immediately written a strong letter of protest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Its letter states as follows:

The Betting and Gaming Council represents 90 per cent of the UK’s betting and gaming industry including betting shops, online gaming businesses, bingo and casinos.

Together our members directly employ over 70,000 people, pay over £3 billion in taxes in each year, contribute £350 million to horse racing and between £120 million and £200 million to the UK tourism industry through international visitors and their spend, mainly in London.  

In light of the unprecedented economic emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, that represents a genuine threat to the survival of many of our businesses, we were extremely encouraged when you told the House of Commons (17 March) you will “do whatever it takes to support our economy through this crisis”.

You said: “I am extending this business rates holiday to all businesses in those sectors, irrespective of their rateable value. That means that every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue and restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector, will pay no business rates whatsoever for 12 months”.

Further, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in a written answer to a parliamentary question (19 March), stated that the Government would be “giving all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England a 100 per cent business rates holiday for the next 12 months”.

However, in marked contrast to these statements to Parliament, the Treasury took the decision to exclude our member companies from any form of business rate relief.

The Business Rates Local Authority Guidance (published 18 March) specifically excludes ‘casinos and gambling clubs’, which presumably includes bingo halls, as well as classifying high street betting shops, in antiquated terms, as being part of ‘financial services’ – despite our members’ clear listing on the London Stock Exchange as part of the leisure industry. Any suggestion that casinos are not part of the leisure industry is frankly bizarre when they provide entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year.

The Government has quite rightly added many other businesses to the official guidance such as nightclubs, but for reasons no one can work out betting shops, casinos and bingo halls have been deliberately left out to dry.

Why are the many hardworking staff that are employed in our industry, whose jobs are at risk because of the same challenges faced in other leisure companies, not considered by the Treasury worthy of similar support?

We strongly believe that there is cross-party support for you to reconsider this decision and make government support on business rates available to betting shops, casinos and bingo halls.

To be absolutely clear: all casinos and betting shops are currently loss-making with most casinos – up to 140 – due to close this weekend and nearly 7,000 high street betting shops expected to close imminently due to the lack of sport and Government guidelines on the need for social distancing.

If there is no change in the Government‘s approach, within months many casinos will be insolvent and we run the very risk that permanent closures of betting shops will occur. Together these retail businesses support the majority of employment in our industry – around 64,000 jobs. Without the ability to generate revenue from football and horseracing, which account for 75 per cent of the UK licenced sports betting market, these employment costs are unsustainable.

Of course, in addition to business rates, there are a range of additional short-term measures that could also be introduced to help our members stand any chance of survival.

These include: immediate support on employment costs similar to those enacted in Spain and Denmark where a portion of payroll is covered by the government; access to Business Interruption loans or guarantees; and automatic application of time to pay on all taxes and gaming duties.

We recognise these are unprecedented times and we appreciate the pressures that you and your colleagues in government are under in order to tackle the crisis. In responding to the crisis, our members have offered to free up staff time to help, for example where they have medical training, and the use of our premises for catering or any other purpose as required to help those in most need.

We are also increasing safer gambling messaging. 

Without the kind of help that the Government is rightly prepared to offer other sectors, including in other parts of the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, there is a real danger that the physical presence of our industry on the high street, in our towns and cities, will be largely wiped out.

Not only is this a sector which provides a leisure activity enjoyed by millions of people up and down the country, but its closure could lead to a migration of gambling to the black market, which is not only unregulated and an unsafe place for people to bet, but it also contributes nothing to the Exchequer or the country. 

We would therefore be grateful if you could rethink this hugely damaging decision on business rates.

We look forward to hearing from you.            

Michael Dugher, Chief Executive  

Brigid Simmonds OBE, Chairman

A further government announcement of financial support for businesses affected by the coronavirus crisis is expected at 5pm today (20 March 2020). We await with grave concern to see whether any changes to the retail rates relief scheme result from the BGC’s wholly justified protest.

UPDATE: 25 March 2020: As reported by us here, it has now been confirmed that land-based gambling premises in the UK – “bingo halls, casinos, betting shops and arcades” that are the subject of enforced closure by reason of the coronavirus crisis – will now qualify for the same business rates “holiday” as all other retail, hospitality and leisure sector businesses.

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