BGC opposes forced closure of casinos and betting shops in Tier 3 regions

The Betting and Gaming Council has today (20 October 2020) called on the Department for Business to intervene over what it describes as “the Government’s ‘ill-informed and arbitrary’ decision to close betting shops and casinos”.

Its website posting states as follows:

The Government has been accused of behaving in an “ill-informed and arbitrary” way over the decision to order the closure of betting shops and casinos despite a lack of evidence that they contribute to the spread of Covid-19.

Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma urging his department to intervene to block the “unfair and unnecessary” move putting tens of thousands of jobs in the industry at risk.

Betting shops have been included in the list of businesses having to close in areas placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions – the only part of non-essential high street retail having to do so.

This is despite the venues re-opening on June 15 with stringent anti-Covid measures in place, including perspex screens and track and trace systems.

It means bookies – as well as casinos – in Merseyside and Lancashire have already been forced to close their doors, with those in Tier 2 now worried that they will be ordered to cease trading within days.

The BGC has also written to local leaders in Tier 2 areas urging them to oppose the forced closure of betting shops and casinos due to the lack of evidence that they spread the virus.

In his letter to the Secretary of State, Mr Dugher said:

“There are currently just over 6,700 shops employing nearly 40,000 staff across the country, the majority of which are female.

The singling out of betting shops for closure is unfair, unnecessary and runs counter to the sensible approach the Government had previously adopted. This decision looks ill-informed, arbitrary, and along with plans to close Covid-secure casinos (that had offered to give up selling alcohol) it frankly looks anti-gambling industry.

It will have a hugely negative impact on our businesses and staff, despite their efforts to ensure a very safe environment for customers that is well beyond any other non-essential retail business.”

Mr Dugher also pointed out that SAGE, the committee of scientific experts advising the Government on its Covid response, has pointed out that high street shops have a “very minimal impact” on the spread of the virus.

He added:

“I therefore would like to ask for your support to intervene on behalf of betting shops, an important part of high street retail and an industry that contributes over £3 billion in tax every year.

I share one hundred per cent the Government’s determination to tackle the spread of Covid. The decision to close betting shops won’t help with that, but it does put in jeopardy an industry that will be much-needed to help power the economy and the Exchequer to recovery.”

The issue has also been the subject of much media interest, including in interviews with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, on BBC Breakfast and Sky News, with further coverage in the Daily Telegraph.

This follows earlier criticism by the BGC (on 16 October 2020) of the Government’s decision to order closure of betting shops and casinos in Lancashire, in which it stated:

The Betting and Gaming Council has asked the Government to think again about closing betting shops and casinos in Lancashire as the impact on covid cases will be negligible but the economic damage will be huge.

The move comes after the Government placed the region in Tier 3 of its Covid-19 restrictions, meaning it faces the most severe lockdown measures. It means that around 200 betting shops and three casinos, employing 1,100 staff, will have to shut indefinitely.

The betting shops affected pay £24m a year in tax, plus £6.6m to horseracing through levy and media rights payments. Meanwhile, the casinos concerned contribute £6m a year in tax to the Treasury.

The announcement comes hard on the heels of the Government’s decision to put the Liverpool City Region in Tier 3, meaning the closure of 350 betting shops and six casinos employing a total of 2,300 people.

But unlike in Merseyside, gyms and leisure centres in Lancashire will be allowed to stay open – even though betting shops and casinos are being ordered to close.

Responding to the Government announcement, BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said there was no evidence that bookies and casinos – which have followed all of the anti-Covid public health guidelines introduced since the start of the pandemic – had contributed to the spread of the disease.

He also stressed that at a time of economic hardship, the Treasury could ill afford to miss out on the tax revenue they provide.

Horseracing – which is already suffering due to the ban on spectators attending live sport – will also take a massive financial hit, he said.

Mr Dugher said:

“We understand the Government’s need to tackle Covid, but they must balance that with the need to protect jobs.

From the beginning of the pandemic, betting shops and casinos have played their full role in the national effort to tackle this virus.

It is therefore hugely disappointing that as they are starting to get back on their feet again, those venues in Merseyside and Lancashire have had the rug pulled from under them.

And given the inconsistencies between the approaches in Liverpool and Lancashire when it comes to gyms and leisure centres, it gives the impression that the people who make these decisions don’t care about jobs in betting shops and casinos.

The simple fact is that there is no evidence that closing betting shops and casinos will slow the spread of Covid-19 and any impact from their closure will be negligible. They have followed the public health guidance to the letter, and in many cases have gone above and beyond what is required of them.

It means that 3,400 hardworking employees in Merseyside and Lancashire will have to stay at home instead of generating the tax revenue that the Treasury so desperately needs.

And horseracing, which receives millions of pounds every year from betting shops, will also see its revenue fall further at a time when it is already suffering because of the ban on spectators.

It is therefore time for the Government to rethink the path it is now on.

We hope that those making the decisions will come up with the necessary financial package to ensure these betting shops and casinos have a long-term future. But the best course of action remains allowing them to safely keep their doors open and do their bit to help the UK’s economic recovery.”

In a similar vein, Michael Dugher wrote as follows for PoliticsHome on 17 October 2020:

Closing betting shops won’t help the fight against Covid, but it will hurt horseracing and the economy at the worst possible time

The Government must let betting shops go about their business safely for the sake of the economy and the future of great British horseracing.

This week SAGE, the committee of scientific experts advising the Government on how to tackle Covid, acknowledged that High Street retail has a “very minimal impact” on the virus’s reproduction rate.

So it was somewhat surprising when it emerged that the Government was including betting shops in the list of businesses being forced to close in so-called ‘Tier 3’ regions where the resurgence of the virus is most severe.

At the outset, we want to make it clear that both the betting industry and British horseracing acknowledge the huge pressure that ministers are under at this time of national crisis.

Both our industries have played their part by championing the highest possible anti-Covid measures in betting shops and at racecourses and training yards, and we will continue to do so until this virus is defeated.

Nevertheless, it is also incumbent upon us to point out where we think the Government could better use evidence and science, rather than optics, to make its decisions and for it to be aware of the significant financial consequences of them.

The first part of the country to enter Tier 3 was the Liverpool City Region, where 350 betting shops employing 1,700 people have been ordered to close their doors. Between the betting levy and the media rights payments that shops pay for the right to show live racing, they generate £12.5m a year for racing.

Next up was Lancashire, which has 196 shops employing 975 people and contributes £6.6m a year to the sport. Greater Manchester, which has 430 shops and 2,100 staff, has also been lined up for Tier 3. Their annual contribution to the racing industry is around £13m.

In total, well over £200m a year flows directly from the betting industry to horseracing. At a time when the sport is already suffering financially as a result of the ban on spectators, choking off this income stream is disastrous.

As the Treasury tries to deal with the economic consequences of the pandemic, it’s also worth remembering that the betting and gaming industry employs 100,000 people and pays over £3bn a year in tax.

British Racing, meanwhile, as a £4.1 bn industry generates over £300m a year directly in taxation, employs 17,400 FTE workers and supports tens of thousands more jobs in the wider rural economy. With the Government needing all the money it can get, these are not insignificant amounts.

The closure of betting shops is even more baffling when you consider that they are now being lumped in with hospitality and leisure businesses, alongside the likes of pubs and gyms.

The clue is in the name: betting shops are shops. And just like other types of retail, they should be allowed to remain open, while of course continuing to observe the necessary anti-Covid measures.

At the Betting and Gaming Council, we will continue to make the case for betting shops and casinos, which also observe strict anti-Covid guidelines and have offered to give up selling alcohol, to be excluded from the Tier 3 restrictions.

While the evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus is negligible, the proof that they are major contributors to the economy is overwhelming.

The British Horseracing Authority is under no illusions as to what’s at stake.

For the sake of our industry’s long-term future, it is absolutely vital that the Government listens. Apart from two successful test meetings at Doncaster and Warwick, spectators have not been allowed to watch racing in the flesh since March.

With the industry facing a further six months without spectators, that is potentially £300m in lost revenues.

That means the ‘Behind Closed Doors’ model for horseracing is being sustained by revenues generated – directly and indirectly – from betting activity on British racing. If income from betting to racing is also jeopardised by the closure of betting shops, it puts further significant pressure on the emergency business model the industry has been forced to adopt.

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between betting and racing. We need each other.

Without the return of spectators by next spring, and with the pressures facing income from betting, the threat of significant contraction in British racing and undermining of its world-leading international position is real.

Inevitably, this will mean the supply chains and jobs which British racing supports across the wider rural economy will also suffer, further damaging the Treasury’s ability to bounce back from the impact of the pandemic.

Our plea to the Government is simple: Take an evidence-led approach to the crisis, rather than one that too often looks like it is being made up as we go along and where ‘optics’ trump the science.

Don’t punish betting shops – or casinos – for a rise in Covid cases which they have not contributed to. Instead, let them go about their business safely for the sake of the economy and the future of great British horseracing.