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BGC attacks government over Lancashire gaming venue closures

| By Robin Harrison
Industry standards body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has attacked the UK government after it ordered casinos and betting shops in the county of Lancashire to close amid a resurgence of novel coronavirus (Covid-19) in the country.
Michael Dugher

The government has placed the county in Tier 3 of its Covid-19 restrictions. This is the highest level of the new tiered structure, and imposes strict social distancing measures for Lancashire inhabitants. 

As part of these measures, the county’s betting shops – approximately 200 – and three casinos, employing 1,100 staff, have been ordered to shut indefinitely. These shops pay £24m a year in tax, as well as £6.6m to the British racing industry through horserace betting levy and media rights payments. 

The three casinos, meanwhile, contribute taxes of £6m a year to the Treasury. 

Similar measures have been brought in for the Liverpool City Region, which is also in Tier 3, resulting in its 350 betting shops and six casinos, employing 2,300 people, have been forced to close. 

However unlike Liverpool, Lancashire’s gyms and leisure centres will be allowed to stay open. 

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher (pictured) pointed out that there has been no evidence that bookmakers and casinos had contributed to the spread of Covid-19, adding that all operators had complied fully with public health guidelines. 

Dugher also pointed out that this would not only result in the Treasury missing out on tax revenue, but would also hit the racing industry, which was already struggling financially. 

“We understand the government’s need to tackle Covid, but they must balance that with the need to protect jobs,” he said.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, betting shops and casinos have played their full role in the national effort to tackle this virus.

“It is therefore hugely disappointing that as they are starting to get back on their feet again, those venues in Merseyside and Lancashire have had the rug pulled from under them by the Prime Minister.”

The inconsistent application of rules in Liverpool and Lancashire, he added, “gives the impression that ministers don’t care about jobs in betting shops and casinos”.

“The simple fact is that there is no evidence that closing betting shops and casinos will slow the spread of Covid-19 and any impact from their closure will be negligible,” Dugher continued. “They have followed the public health guidance to the letter, and in many cases have gone above and beyond what is required of them.

“It means that 3,400 hardworking employees in Merseyside and Lancashire will have to stay at home instead of generating the tax revenue that the Treasury so desperately needs.”

This, he said, meant it was time for the government to rethink its approach, calling for a better financial package to ensure the venues have a long-term future.

“But the best course of action remains allowing them to safely keep their doors open and do their bit to help the UK’s economic recovery.”

The BGC has been fighting stricter measures on gambling venues for months, putting forward a number of compromises that have largely gone unheeded by the government. 

Despite the association’s concerns about the impact of a 10pm curfew on hospitality venues, this failed to stop the measure being imposed, while a proposed ban on alcohol sales to avoid closures was also overlooked. 

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