Green light for 4 July opening for pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, bingo halls and arcades but a red light still for casinos and nightclubs

The Prime Ministerial Statement delivered today (23 June 2020) to the House of Commons on COVID-19 (that you can download in its entirety below) has provided:

  • greater certainty for some sectors of the leisure and hospitality industry (including pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, bingo halls, adult gaming centres and family entertainment centres), each of which will be permitted to re-open for business on 4 July 2020,
  • expected news for others such as nightclubs, sexual entertainment venues, indoor gyms, swimming pools, spas, water parks and bowling alleys where “close proximity” concerns mean that they will need to remain closed for now, and
  • unexpectedly adverse news for casinos that – for no obvious reason, given the work put into finalisation of its comprehensive “Non-remote casinos – Compliance with Covid-19 Secure Guidelines” to diminish “close proximity”, social distancing and hygiene concerns – must also remain closed.

On behalf of the land-based casino sector, the Betting & Gaming Council has justifiably registered immediate concern in a website posting entitled “Government called upon to urgently work with casinos to ensure a ‘speedy and safe’ re-opening this summer, after ‘inconsistent and nonsensical’ decision to keep them closed” (also downloadable below) that reads as follows:

Ministers have been urged to work with casino operators to ensure they can open their doors again this summer.

It comes after Boris Johnson confirmed the venues have been excluded from a list of hospitality and leisure establishments which will be able to resume their business on 4 July as the Covid-19 lockdown is eased.

Every casino in the country has been closed since 23 March as part of the national effort to tackle the spread of the virus.

In addition, many casinos have opened their kitchens to help key workers and vulnerable groups, while their car parks have also been made available free of charge to NHS staff.

The sector also contributes more than £300m a year to the Treasury, and employs 14,000 people.

Casino operators have worked round the clock to ensure their premises, and the way they operate, adhere to the Government’s strict anti-Covid guidelines.

They now want to work urgently with ministers on any outstanding issues which will enable them to re-open their doors safely as soon after 4 July as possible.

Measures the casinos have already introduced include ensuring customers use hand sanitisers before entering the casino, as well as when joining and leaving a gaming table.

Entry to casinos would also be limited to one person at a time, with social distancing enforced in any queues outside.

Table capacity limits would be enforced to reduce the risk of infection, with face coverings made available to customers on request.

Floor layouts have been re-designed to ensure social distancing at all times, while gaming machines will be cleaned after each play session and ATMs will be sanitised at least once an hour.

Plexiglass screens may also be used where necessary to maintain social distancing and protect staff and customers.

But despite these efforts, the Prime Minister today (23rd June) announced that casinos will not be included in the lengthy list of establishments which can open their doors again on 4 July.

Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said:

“We welcome the fact that the lockdown is being eased further. The whole country has made sacrifices over the past few months to combat the coronavirus and it’s good news that the Government is determined to get the economy moving again by reopening the likes of pubs, restaurants, cinemas, amusement arcades and bingo halls, whilst protecting public health.

But it is inconsistent and frankly nonsensical that casinos are being forced to remain closed, when other parts of the hospitality and leisure industry are opening up again.

Our casino members make a huge contribution to the economy, sustaining thousands of jobs and providing large amounts of much-needed tax revenue to the Treasury. Casinos have done everything that they were asked to do by the Government and they have pulled out all the stops to ensure they are able to open their doors safely for both staff and customers from 4 July.

It is therefore extremely disappointing that the Government has not yet cleared casinos to reopen. We want to urgently work with Ministers to ensure that casinos are reopened safely and as speedily as possible this summer”.

A recent precedent for this entirely unexpected decision exists in that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport gave the UK amusement machine industry trade body (Bacta) just four days’ notice that amusement arcades were no longer on the list of “non-essential high street premises” able to reopen for business on 15 June 2020. They are now able to re-open on 4 July 2020 but the government’s about-turn on their re-opening date in June was a wholly unanticipated last-minute surprise just as today’s exclusion of casinos from the July re-opening list is.

UPDATES:

1. Guidance arising from the Prime Minister’s above statement

The government has subsequently published its guidance arising from the Prime Minister’s above statement. Entitled “Opening certain businesses and venues in England from 4 July 2020” (that you can also download below).

Rather than clarifying why casinos are excluded from the category of businesses that can re-open on 4 July, it instead deepens the mystery. For example:

  • the main qualifying criteria for those allowed to re-open then appears to be that they are “self-contained and can be accessed from the outside”. I can think of very few British casinos that do not satisfy those criteria;
  • as indicated above, the BGC has published comprehensive re-opening guidelines for casinos that we understand have been seen by government representatives. However, in the case of those allowed to re-open on 4 July, the government’s guidance is currently either completely or almost non-existent:
    • it states “further guidance coming soon” in relation to food & drink businesses, hotels & other guest accommodation businesses, cinemas, theatres and concert halls [certain of which has now been published – see update note 2 below];
    • it says nothing in terms of guidance for the re-opening of bingo halls and other venues;
    • it merely states, in relation to amusement arcades: “Close contact activity such as visiting an entertainment centre should only be conducted within a household group/bubble or with one other household/bubble”; and
  • it is difficult to discern what common link exists between casinos and the other businesses and venues (listed in full within the newly published government guidance document) that must remain closed by law, beyond the government evidently believing them all to fall within the category of “close-contact businesses”. Can that description be correct in the case of casinos? We would suggest not, particularly taking into account the very sensible precautions (including premises and gaming table capacity limits) contained within the BGC’s re-opening guidelines.

2. Guidance on “Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services”

The government has now also now published detailed 43 page long guidance entitled “Keeping workers and customers safe during COVID-19 in restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services” (that you can also download below). The provisions of that guidance would apply – and could be applied – just as equally in casinos.

It has also published:

  • visitor economy guidance for hotels and other guest accommodation businesses, indoor and outdoor attractions, and business events and consumer shows, and
  • close contact services guidance for hairdressing and barbershop businesses, beauty and nail bars, makeup, tattoo and spray tanning studios, spas, sports and massage therapy businesses, well-being and holistic locations, dress fitters, tailors and fashion designers.

3. BGC Blog – John O’Reilly: It’s time for the Government to review their decision and let us re-open our casinos as soon as possible

You can read here and download below a blog (featured on the BGC’s website) by the Rank Group CEO, John O’Reilly, in which he asks “the Government to quickly review the decision to keep casinos closed, to recognise the safety measures that are in place including our ability to identify every customer on our premises and who they may have interacted with, and to include us – as soon as possible – when the next opportunity for reopening is discussed”.

4. UK Casinos Post-Coronavirus

David Clifton’s UK Casinos Post-Coronavirus” article for Casino Life magazine (published on 27 June 2020) provides an up to date account of the challenges facing English land-based casinos that had, as indicated above, been expecting to be able to re-open for business on 4 July 2020

5. Guidance aplenty for 4 July 2020 pub, bar and restaurant re-openings

You can read here about the copious guidance in relation to the re-opening of pubs, bars and restaurants in England on 4 July 2020.

6. BGC urges the Chancellor to let casinos “re-open safely to help kickstart the economy and boost the exchequer”

On 7 July 2020, the BGC urged the Chancellor to let casinos “re-open safely to help kickstart the economy and boost the exchequer”, stating on its website:

Rishi Sunak has been urged to give the green light for casinos to finally re-open later this month in order to boost Treasury coffers and help kickstart the economy.

The venues were dealt a huge blow last month when ministers ruled that they could not open their doors again on 4 July, having been closed since the start of lockdown in March.

It meant that thousands of casino staff remained on furlough – costing the Exchequer around £5m a week.

The closures mean the Treasury is also missing out on vast revenues, with casinos last year paying £5.7m each week in tax and duties.

Casinos have invested heavily to ensure their premises are covid-secure, with measures such as perspex screens, santisation equipment and sophisticated track and trace systems, as well as introducing other changes and strict social distancing measures.

Now the Chancellor has been urged to use Wednesday’s statement on how he plans to reboot the UK economy after Covid-19 to get the businesses – which employ more than 14,000 people and also contribute nearly £4m a week to the tourism economy – back up and running.

In an open letter to the Chancellor, Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher says the sector is ready to help get the UK economy back on its feet again as soon as it gets the green light from the Government.

Mr Dugher says:

“The UK casino sector were sorely disappointed not to be included in the list of industries allowed to reopen on 4 July. The support from HM Treasury, such as the Job Retention Scheme, has been extremely welcome, however support for casinos is costing the Exchequer around £5 million per week while they are closed. Casinos want to get back in business and once again contributing to the economy, not costing the Exchequer money. Last year, casinos paid over £5.7m million in tax per week. With phased reductions in wage support kicking in soon, there is however a real fear that if reopening doesn’t happen in July there will be severe damage caused to the casino industry. To our knowledge, casinos have met all Covid safety requirements and yet they are still not permitted to open. We urgently ask for your help to get casinos reopened and back to contributing to the UK economy.”

The letter adds:

“The cost of remaining in a reopening ‘holding pattern’ is significantly higher as it means businesses are kept in a state of preparedness, including maintaining the premises for reopening, cleaning, restocking supplies and staffing.”

The letter also points out that casinos across Europe have already re-opened, despite having to meet less stringent anti-Covid measures than those in the UK.

“Having made the necessary preparations for a July reopening, casinos are ready and able to open at the earliest opportunity. We would greatly appreciate any help you can give to get our businesses back open and contributing to the UK economy.”

7. On 17 July 2020, it was announced that casinos and some other leisure venues in England (but not nightclubs) will be permitted to re-open on 1 August 2020, as reported by us here.