Dismay at casino U-turn

With the following words in his statement on coronavirus (Covid-19) today, the Prime Minister dashed expectations that English casinos would be re-opening for business tomorrow 1 August 2020:

Even as we act locally, it is also my responsibility to look again at the measures we have in place nationally in light of the data we are seeing about incidence.

At every point I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional – that it relies on continued progress against the virus, and that we would not hesitate to put on the brakes if required.

With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.

On Saturday 1 August, you’ll remember, we had hoped to reopen in England a number of higher risk settings that had remained closed. Today, I am afraid we are postponing these changes for at least a fortnight.

That means that, until 15 August at the earliest:

Casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services must remain closed. Indoor performances will not resume.

Pilots of larger crowds in sports venues and conference centres will not take place.

Wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted, but ceremonies can continue to take place, in line with COVID-Secure guidelines.

You can download the Prime Minister’s full statement below. You can also download a letter from the Betting and Gaming Council to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that expresses in the clearest possible terms the casino sector’s exasperation and dismay at the Government’s last-minute U-turn.

On its website, under the heading “Dismay at casino U-turn”, the BGC states:

Industry standards body The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has expressed its “utter dismay” following the UK Government’s decision to delay the reopening of all casinos in England for at least two weeks.

Casinos across England were preparing to re-open from 1 August until today’s last minute u-turn by the UK Government.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP, the BGC described the decision as “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and thousands of staff they employ.”

BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher wrote:

“It appears that the Government’s strategy for dealing with covid is in disarray. We were told that the strategy was to move to regional and local lockdowns, yet the Government’s announcement today forces all casinos to remain closed.

Why, for example, should casinos in Bristol, where there are low recorded cases of covid, remain closed when the spikes in covid are in other parts of the country? It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses (‘Households may go to hospitality, for instance bars and pubs’).”

The BGC also challenged the Prime Minister’s assertion today that businesses such as casinos are “higher risk,” a charge it described as “bizarre and quite wrong.”

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 introducing other changes and strict social distancing measures.

The sector has also been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England to ensure that all venues were ready to re-open safely from 1 August.

Michael Dugher said:

“This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly 5 months. Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry. They employ over 14,000 people and indirectly support another 4,000 jobs across the UK, and last year casinos paid over £5.7m million in tax per week.

Casinos want to get back in business and once again contributing to the economy. The DCMS have supported our efforts to get casinos reopened, yet have been excluded from this shambolic decision. Having made the necessary preparations for reopening, we call on the Government to permit casinos to reopen.”

Mr Dugher said that casino operators had spent millions of pounds preparing to reopen, including recalling staff off furlough, training and food and beverage supplies, and warned that “significant redundancies” could now result from the u-turn as operators struggle with the huge financial costs of remaining closed.

He added:

“The support from HM Treasury, such as the Job Retention Scheme, has really helped but now our members will be forced to pay National Insurance on top of salaries in August while they remain closed. As furlough payments are phased out, there will be no flexibility for casinos to adapt to the new working and leisure environment when they are eventually allowed to reopen.”

We now have to await developments to establish whether casinos in England will be able to re-open on 15 August 2020.

UPDATES:

1. In a follow-up press release on 2 August 2020, the BGC stated:

Government “wrecking ball” to casino industry is costing millions and half the jobs are now “at risk” warns BGC

Industry standards body The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned that the UK Government’s last minute reversal of plans to allow casinos to reopen on 1 August has dealt a wrecking ball to the industry, from which it may never recover.

With casinos across England forced to remain shuttered, the BGC warns that up to 6,000 jobs may be permanently lost – half the number supported by the sector.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP on Friday (31st July), the BGC described the decision to keep casinos closed as “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and the thousands of staff they employ.”

The cost of preparing for reopening on 1st August, including taking staff off furlough, training, security and food and beverage, is believed to be around £6 million. For every week that casinos remain closed, it costs the industry over £5 million.

There is also a significant cost to the UK Treasury, with the cost of furlough and lost tax receipts hitting the public purse to the tune of £10 million per week.

The casino sector employs more than 14,000 people across the UK in 125 casinos and a further 4,000 in the supply chain. Casinos also paid over £300 million each year in tax before the lock down.

However, operators have warned of permanent damage to the sector as a result of bearing the costs of closure, with many now fearing for their survival.

Genting Casino, which employs over 4,000 people in the UK, has already warned it needs to make “heart breaking decisions” about the future of the business, with job losses now “simply unavoidable.”

Rank Group, whose Grosvenor Casino business employs over 4,600 people, also faces some very tough decisions in the coming weeks unless the Government provides assurances on reopening, with the Chancellor’s decision to taper furlough payments and force employers to pay National Insurance and pension contributions weighing heavily on decision making within the industry.

The BGC has also rejected the Prime Minister’s categorisation of casinos as “higher risk” during his Downing Street briefing. Casinos have spent weeks and invested millions of pounds to ensure their premises are covid-secure, with measures such as perspex screens, sanitisation equipment and sophisticated track and trace systems, as well as introducing strict social distancing measures and hygiene protocols.

BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said:

“The Government are swinging a wrecking ball right through the middle of our industry and large scale job losses, which ought to be unnecessary and avoidable, now look inevitable unless ministers act fast.

Casinos are a small but fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry. They employ over 14,000 people across the UK and indirectly support another 4,000 jobs in the supply sector, and last year casinos paid over £5.7 million in tax per week.

The ongoing cost of remaining in a holding pattern to reopen is clearly not sustainable, with more jobs and livelihoods being put at risk with every last minute change and delay to reopening.

The Job Retention Scheme has helped but our members will now be forced to pay National Insurance and pension contributions on top of salaries in August while they remain closed. As furlough payments are phased out, there will be no flexibility for casinos to adapt to the new working and leisure environment and I now fear that many thousands of jobs could be lost.

We made the all necessary preparations for safe reopening and we were given the green light by Public Health England on the basis of the significant investment made by operators, and having been told by the Government themselves that casinos posed a ‘negligible’ risk compared with the tens of thousands of other places that they have been reopened.

2. On 11 August 2020, the BGC published a further press release entitled “World famous icons of British tourism and entertainment at risk unless Government moves to support casinos”, in which it said:

Over 100 casinos at risk including:  

  • Les Ambassadeurs, the high-end casino which featured in the James Bond movie ‘Dr. No’ and the Beatle’s film ‘A Hard Day’s Night’
  • The Hippodrome casino, home of the hit show Magic Mike Live and in its former guise played host to acts such as Harry Houdini, Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, The Jackson 5 and gave Julie Andrews her stage debut at the age of 12.

BGC calls for extension to furlough scheme as 2 week opening delay costs the industry £14million

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 1 August 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 £6 million 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.

Download article PDF: BGC Letter to Chancellor 31.07.20