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BGC urges rethink over casino and betting shop closures

| By Robert Fletcher
Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher has written to UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma, urging him to block “unfair and unnecessary” closures of betting shops and casinos as part of the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) measures.
Michael Dugher

Last week, the government set out a new three-tier system, whereby regions will be placed into either medium, high, or very-high risk categories based on their respective Covid-19 case rates.

Each tier brings with it certain restrictions, with the very-high tier three seeing all gambling venues including casinos and betting shops being forced to close until the area is downgraded to at least tier two.

Casinos and betting shops within Merseyside and Lancashire have already had to close after both regions were placed in the very high risk category for Covid-19, while Manchester also set to enter tier three later today (20 October).

However, the BGC fears that this requirement could be extended to areas in the second tier high risk region, with some venues worried that they could be forced to temporarily close within days.

As such, Dugher has urged Sharma and the Department for Business to remove casino and betting shops from the list of require closures in tier three, saying there is little evidence to show these venues are contributing to the spread of Covid-19.

He highlighted data from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), the committee of scientific experts advising the government on its Covid-19 response, which showed high street shops had a “very minimal impact” on the spread of the virus.

Dugher said that betting shops are the only part of non-essential high street retail having to close under tier three restrictions, with other shops permitted to remain open.

“The singling out of betting shops for closure is unfair, unnecessary and runs counter to the sensible approach the government had previously adopted,” Dugher said in the letter.

“This decision looks ill-informed, arbitrary, and along with plans to close Covid-secure casinos – that had offered to give up selling alcohol – it frankly looks anti-gambling industry.

“It will have a hugely negative impact on our businesses and staff, despite their efforts to ensure a very safe environment for customers that is well beyond any other non-essential retail business.”

Dugher added that the BGC has also written to local leaders in tier two regions, urging them to oppose the forced closure of betting shops and casinos, if the government were to extend this to areas classed as high risk.

“There are currently just over 6,700 shops employing nearly 40,000 staff across the country, the majority of which are female,” Dugher said.

“I share 100% the government’s determination to tackle the spread of Covid-19. The decision to close betting shops won’t help, but it does put in jeopardy an industry that will be much-needed to help power the economy and the Exchequer to recovery.”

The BGC has voiced its criticism of the government’s treatment of the gambling industry during Covid-19 on a number of occasions, campaigning against what it described as the “needless closure” of gambling venues.   

Yesterday (19 October), the BGC called for more targeted support for the Welsh gambling industry, which has seen all of its land-based venues forced to close again after the country announced a three-week Covid-19 lockdown.

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