The UK government has instructed all casinos, betting shops and bingo halls to temporarily shut as part of it latest set of measures to combat the spread of novel coronavirus (Covid-19), while Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced plans to help protect jobs affected by the closures.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the measures on 20 March, with casinos, betting shops and bingo halls ordered to close that evening and not open again the following day.
Such facilities must remain closed until further notice, with the government to review the situation every 28 days as the global coronavirus pandemic continues.
Betting shops, bingo halls and casinos were among a number of facilities ordered to temporarily close as part of the latest measures, with restaurants, cafes, pubs, bars, cinemas, theatres, nightclubs, gyms, leisure centres and museums among the other venues also impacted.
The government said the closures are enforceable by law in England and Wales due to the threat to public health, with any business operating in contravention of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Business Closures) Regulations 2020 will be seen as breaking the law.
Environmental Health and Trading Standards officers will monitor compliance with the new regulations, with support from the police.
The government also announced a series of measures to financially support any of the affected businesses and their staff. Chancellor Sunak set out details of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which he said has been designed to help protect people’s jobs affected by the enforced closures.
Should a business choose to retain a worker during the period of closure, new government grants will cover 80% of their salary up to a total of £2,500 a month, which is above the median income for the UK. Employers can also choose top up these salaries further if they wish to.
“That means workers in any part of the UK can retain their job, even if their employer cannot afford to pay them, and be paid at least 80% of their salary,” Sunak said.
“The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to March 1st and will be open initially for at least three months – and I will extend the scheme for longer if necessary.
“I am placing no limit on the amount of funding available for the scheme. We will pay grants to support as many jobs as necessary. We said we would stand together with the British people – and we meant it.”
The new plans complemented a set of measures to protect businesses announced days earlier, which drew criticism from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) for excluding gambling businesses.
On 18 March, Sunak announced government aid for businesses that may be disproportionately affected by the pandemic, including making all retail, leisure and hospitality businesses exempt from paying business rates for 12 months.
The Business Rates Local Authority Guidance, which instructs authorities on who is eligible for relief from business rates, specifically excludes ‘casinos and gambling clubs’ and classifies retail betting shops as financial services rather than leisure, meaning they are also ineligible.
However, the BGC was much more upbeat about the new measures regarding government help for wages and protecting jobs, with BGC chief executive Michael Dugher welcoming the move.
Dugher said: “Casinos and betting shops together support the majority of employment in the betting and gaming industry – around 64,000 jobs. Without the ability to generate revenue from football and horseracing, which account for 75% of the UK licensed sports betting market, these employment costs were simply unsustainable going forward.
“Whilst we are naturally sad to see our doors closed, we hope that this decisive action taken by the government will see the whole country come through this crisis and that our businesses, and those who work for them, will prosper in the future as we continue to work hard to raise standards and bring enjoyment to our millions of customers.”
Dugher also said the BGC would continue to press the Chancellor to secure more support for businesses, in regards to the initial measures announced last week.
He said: “We will also be pressing the Chancellor to be consistent and do the right thing by people in our industry by giving them the same access to help on business rates that every other leisure business enjoys and who have now similarly been asked to temporarily shutdown.”
The virus has had a major effect on the finances of many of the UK's largest gambling businesses as share prices plummet across the industry while H2 Gambling Capital said it expects global gambling revenues to fall by 11%.
Gambling businesses have also been hit by the cancellation of almost all major sports events, which has in turn significantly limited sports betting options for customers.