Industry standards body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer to express its “utter dismay” at the decision to delay the reopening of English casinos by at least two weeks.
Earlier today (31 July) Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that casinos, which had been due to reopen from 1 August, would not reopen until 15 August at the earliest.
The properties closed on 20 March as the UK went into lockdown amid the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, and it was not until 17 July that the government set a date for casino reopenings. Other gambling venues such as betting shops (from 15 June) and bingo halls (from 4 July) have already been allowed to open their doors to customers.
However, with stricter lockdown measures being reintroduced in the north of England, Johnson said it was necessary to “squeeze the brake pedal” on easing lockdown in other parts of the country further.
This has been greeted with horror by the BGC, which had lobbied the government to either reopen, or at least set out a timescale for casinos to reopen.
In a letter to the UK finance minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, BGC chief executive Michael Dugher (pictured) described the U-turn as “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and thousands of staff they employ.”
Dugher said the government’s strategy for dealing with Covid-19 appeared to be “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,” he wrote.
“It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses.”
He cited government advice stating that households were permitted to avail themselves of hospitality options such as bars and pubs.
Dugher’s letter also took exception to Johnson’s assertion that businesses such as casinos were higher risk, something he said was “bizarre and quite wrong”. The BGC pointed out that casino operators had invested heavily in making their properties Covid-secure, installing perspex screens, sanitisation equipment and employing track and trace systems to protect patrons.
The industry had also coordinated with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England to ensure that all venues were ready to reopen from 1 August.
“This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly five months,” Dugher continued. “Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry.
He pointed out the sector employs over 14,000 people directly, as well as indirectly supporting another 4,000 UK jobs, paying more than £5.7m in tax per week in 2019.
However, he warned that operators, having spent millions on reopening plans, including recalling furloughed staff, now looked to be forced into “significant redundancies” due to the heavy cost of the closures.
“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,” he added.
“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.”