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Scotbet warns Sturgeon of ‘make or break’ winter

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Scotland’s largest independent bookmaker, Scotbet, has urged Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to take action after the operator was denied business rates relief or small business grants during the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) lockdown.
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Scotbet chairman John Heaton has written to Scottish Finance Secretary Kate Forbes and the First Minister to request answers.

“It is simply no way to treat a Scottish business struggling to survive in the grip of a pandemic,” he said.

Heaton said the business was initially under the impression it would receive small business rates relief or grants, which he added were necessary to keep independent operators alive while shops were closed.

“Due to the Covid restrictions we were forced to close our shops for over three months in March,” he said. “At the time, small businesses throughout the UK were promised help in the form of small business grants and 12 months of business rates relief.

“It allowed many independent operators in England, which would otherwise have failed, to remain in business.”

However, he said that the decision to exclude betting shop chains from this relief has put Scotbet’s future and the jobs of its employees at risk.

“We have received nothing,” he said. “For reasons, so far not explained, independent betting shop chains were excluded. We are now receiving threats of court action for non-payment of rates for a period when we were not allowed to open. This is simply unfair.”

“We now face a very challenging future. Even now, revenue is significantly below pre-lockdown levels and the coming months could be make or break for many independent bookmakers. On behalf of our loyal and extremely hard working employees, I would urge the Scottish Government to do more to support the independent sector before it is too late.

Based in Loanhead in Midlothian, Scotbet was saved from closing in July 2019 following a management buy-out. Almost 130 jobs and 30 retail locations were saved.

Miles Briggs, Lothian Member of Scottish Parliament, and convener of the Cross Party Group on Horseracing at the Scottish Parliament described it as “baffling” that the betting industry had not been provided equivalent support to that given to businesses in other industries.

He said “Licensed responsible gambling provides entertainment to people throughout Scotland and the thousands of jobs related to the industry are no less valuable than in any other sector.”

“I have written to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture to ask why support has not yet been provided and I have called on Ministers to act immediately to support local jobs in communities across Scotland.”

Rank-owned Grosvenor Casinos, meanwhile, has launched a campaign encouraging customers to email the First Minister requesting that the Scottish government does not include casinos in its Level 2 lockdown measures.

“The Scottish casinos that we know and love are under threat, with hundreds of jobs and livelihoods now at serious risk,” it said. Its template message for customers to send argued that the restrictions “make no sense” and that “casinos are far safer than other venues permitted to reopen”.

In September, the chair of UK trade association the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), Brigid Simmonds, called upon the Communities and Local Government Select Committee to place the needs of the retail betting industry at the centre of its inquiry into supporting high streets in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

BGC warned the Scottish government in July that without business rates relief for the land-based sports betting sector, thousands of jobs would be put at risk.

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