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.

UPDATE: 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.

Download article PDF: BGC Letter to Chancellor 31.07.20