Betting and Gaming Council focuses latest lobbying efforts on Scotland and Wales

With English betting shops having been able to re-open since 15 June 2020 and English casinos able to do the same with effect from 1 August 2020, the Betting and Gaming Council has turned its attention to government ministers in each of Scotland and Wales.

You can read the BGC’s recently published news items below:

25 July 2020: Scotland and Wales urged to ‘end the uncertainty’ and tell casinos when they can re-open

Ministers in Scotland and Wales have been urged to let casinos in their countries know when they can finally re-open their doors.

Venues in England were told earlier this month that they will be able to get back to business on 1 August, more than four months after they were closed as part of the Covid-19 lockdown.

But so far, their colleagues in other parts of the United Kingdom remain in the dark about when they can open again.

Casinos across the UK – which employ 14,000 people and contribute around £300 million a year to the Treasury – have introduced a range of anti-Covid measures to ensure the safety of their staff and customers.

These include perspex screens, advanced track and trace systems, hand sanitiser stations and strict social distancing guidelines.

Standards body the Betting and Gaming Council said it was now time for the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales to follow the example of their English counterparts by letting their casinos re-open.

A BGC spokesperson said:

“We were delighted when the UK government announced that casinos in England could re-open from 1 August.

It was a tremendous boost for their staff and customers, but also for the Treasury, which has been spending £5 million a week on furlough costs for casino workers during lockdown.

It is now time for ministers in Edinburgh and Cardiff to end the uncertainty which still faces 2,000 casino staff in Scotland and Wales by giving them a date for re-opening. Businesses need clarity and so far this has been lacking from both administrations. We urge them to work with casinos to allow to re-open safely.”

22 July 2020: Scottish Government criticised after re-imposing ban on gaming machines in betting shops

Betting shops in Scotland have been ordered to switch off their gaming machines, just days after the Scottish Government announced it was lifting the controversial ban.

In an apparent U-turn, bookmakers have been told that their customers must not be allowed to play the machines until further notice.

The shock move came despite the Scottish Government previously agreeing to lift the extra restrictions they had placed on betting shops north of the Border when they re-opened on 29 June following the Covid-19 lockdown.

Uniquely, Scottish shops were banned from having chairs for customers to sit on, from showing live racing and from switching on their gaming machines.

That led to fall in turnover of up to 95 per cent in some Scottish betting shops.

Betting shops in England re-opened on 15 June without those restrictions, but have operated safely by installing screens, hand sanitisers and strict social distancing measures.

Following a campaign by the Betting and Gaming Council, it was announced that all of the extra restrictions in Scottish shops would be lifted from 22 July.

But it has now emerged that, following a last-minute change of heart, gaming machines must remain switched off amid concerns they could cause the spread of the coronavirus.

In a letter to BGC chief executive Michael Dugher, a Scottish Government official said:

“Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance.

The precise definition of amusement arcades and the use of gambling machines in different locations is a complex area with overlapping considerations that are difficult to assess.

The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”

But a separate letter by another official last week stated:

“At the time of writing, betting shops are able to reopen partially for the purpose of placing bets only, aimed at avoiding clusters of people gathering to watch live sport, with gambling machines switched off to avoid spread through surface transmission.

Further to the announcement by the First Minister on 9 July, I can confirm that current restrictions will be lifted on 22 July.”

John Heaton, boss of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest independent betting shop chain, said:

“We’re now incurring all the cost of the in-shop product without the benefit of the machines. It’s the worst of all worlds.

They seem determined to put as many betting shops out of business as they can, and it’s independent shops like ours that will suffer the most.”

The Scottish Government is already under fire for excluding betting shops from a scheme giving firms 100 per cent business rate relief for a year to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19.

Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the BGC, said:

“We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously.

Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.

I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”

UPDATE:

1. On 30 July 2020, welcoming the Scottish Government’s announcement of plans for (a) Scottish casinos and bingo halls to re-open and (b) Scottish betting shops to be permitted to switch back on their gaming machines on 24 August 2020, the BGC stated as follows on its website:

The Scottish Government have given the venues an indicative date of 24 August for when they can emerge from the Covid-19 lockdown.

The announcement came as casinos in England prepare to re-open on 1 August, having put in place a range of measures to ensure the safety of staff and customers.

They include Perspex screens, hand sanitisation equipment, track and tracing mechanisms and strict social distancing measures.

Scotland’s 11 casinos, which employ around 800 people, have also gone above and beyond what is required to ensure their venues are Covid-secure.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the latest easing of the country’s coronavirus lockdown in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

It has also been confirmed that Scottish betting shops will be allowed to switch their gaming machines back on from 24 August, after their concerns were raised by the BGC.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, said:

“We are delighted that casinos and bingo halls in Scotland have finally been given a date to re-open. They have demonstrated their commitment to ensuring the safety of their staff and customers, and it’s great that this has been recognised by the Scottish Government. We’re already looking forward to casinos in England opening their doors again this weekend, and I hope that their Welsh colleagues will soon be receiving the same good news. I’m also very pleased that the Scottish Government has listened to our concerns about betting shops having to switch off their gaming machines. It’s great that they will be back on again from 24 August.”

2. A more cautious approach was adopted by the Welsh Government, its First Minister (Mark Drakeford) suggesting on 31 July 2020 that Wales was near the limit of what could reopen and the “headroom” that was left could be needed to allow schools to reopen in September. He said:

“I think we are now pretty close to the point where most aspects of the Welsh economy have been able to reopen. There are a small number of things still on a list that can’t reopen – nightclubs, casinos and so on. I think it’d be a while before they are able to reopen.”

3. On 31 July 2020, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that plans for English casinos to re-open on 1 August 2020 were being delayed until 15 August 2020 at the earliest (as reported by us here).