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BGC welcomes furlough extension as England prepares for lockdown

| By Robert Fletcher
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has welcomed the extension to the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) furlough scheme in England ahead of a nationwide lockdown.

A month-long lockdown is due to begin on 5 November and run through until at least 2 December, with non-essential shops, leisure facilities, pubs, restaurants and entertainment facilities to temporarily close.

As was the case during the first lockdown, this will include the closure of all gambling venues including casinos, betting shops, bingo halls and gaming arcades. However, this time professional sport will be permitted to continue behind closed doors, whereas the first lockdown saw all sports cancelled.

The government said that due to the nationwide lockdown, it would extend its Covid-19 furlough scheme until at least 2 December.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher welcomed this decision, saying that it would help protect jobs across the land-based gambling sector in Great Britain.

“Nothing matters more to our industry than the safety of our staff and customers, which is why we want to contribute to the national effort to defeat this virus,” he said. “We also welcome the support for businesses forced to close under the second lockdown.”

The British land-based gambling market has been hit particularly hard by Covid-19 measures. Gambling venues closed Britain entered its first lockdown on 23 March and began to open again from mid-June, starting with betting shops on 15 June, bingo halls from 4 July and casinos in mid-August.

However, since the initial reopening, further measures were introduced to help prevent further spread of Covid-19, including casinos in England having to shut at 10pm each night.

Some venues have had to completely shut again in line with the government’s tiered system, whereby certain areas of England with very high rates of Covid-19 would be locked down.

The BGC was strongly critical of these measures and, as such, Dugher has urged the government to adopt a “science-led approach” when England exits its period of lockdown, saying this would allow facilities classed as low risk of spreading Covid-19 to safely reopen.

Dugher said this would avoid the “unnecessary” decisions that led to random closures of casinos and betting shops.

“It’s also important that when the latest lockdown is over, betting shops are allowed to open safely along with other non-essential retail, as they were in June,” he said. “Casinos, which have the best anti-Covid-19 measures operating anywhere in hospitality and entertainment, should also reopen at the same time.

“At a time when there is widespread despair among sporting bodies, the government also needs to recognise that a healthy betting industry is vital to the funding of sport, and that betting shops in particular are critical to the financing of horseracing.”

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