Britain’s betting shops and casinos must be allowed to reopen at the same time as other similar businesses once the country is given the green light to safely emerge from lockdown.
The call from the industry standards body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), comes as the Prime Minister is expected to announce a roadmap out of lockdown on 22 February, with proposals also due from the devolved administrations.
BGC members and their employees have been supporting the national effort against Covid-19 and are continuing to do so, with members offering their venues as test and vaccination centres and employees volunteering to support the vaccine roll out.
The BGC has said that its members – which employ 44,000 people in betting shops and casinos – are ready to support the economic recovery and must be given the same opportunities to reopen as other parts of the economy. For betting shops, that means reopening in line with other non-essential retailers; and for casinos, hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants.
The Betting and Gaming industry paid £3.2 billion in taxes to the UK Exchequer in 2019-20. Betting shops employ 32,500 people and generate almost £2.8 billion for the economy and the casino industry is worth £1 billion to the economy and employs around 11,500 people.
Horse racing receives over £350 million per year from the betting industry through the horse racing industry levy, media rights and sponsorships which has been hugely important at a time when people have been unable to attend race meetings. Betting shops are integral to the racing industry, they contribute over £30,000 per shop in media rights each year to screen racing on top of levy payments. With betting shops closed this vital income stream for racing is lost.
Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “The pace at which the vaccine is being rolled out across the UK has been hugely impressive. Britain is at the forefront of this global effort thanks to the hard work of NHS teams and volunteers up and down the country. UK Government Ministers also deserve credit for the success of this rollout and for the support it has given to businesses throughout the pandemic. The past year has been a torrid time for businesses and government support has been a lifeline for many.
“As the vaccine rollout continues and the country begins to emerge from lockdown, it is important that businesses are able to plan effectively for reopening. Ministers must be clear from the outset what the next few months will look like and there should be a consistent approach across the sectors.
“Betting shops must be allowed to reopen alongside other non-essential retail. Last summer, when most betting shops were able to open, they showed that they have best-in-class anti-covid measures compared to any other part of the high street to protect customers and staff. It is vital that ministers allow them to play their part in stimulating the high street, along with other non-essential retailers.
“Likewise, casinos are eager to help Britain get back on its feet. The night-time economy has taken a hammering during the pandemic and draconian restrictions, including the 10pm curfew, have made a difficult situation more desperate for many businesses. Ministers must allow casinos to reopen at the same time as other hospitality businesses including pubs and they must scrap the curfew. It didn’t work last summer and it won’t work now.
“There will be no let-up in our commitment to safety, but we need the economy to open up again – not least if we are to revive the country’s tax take and fund vital public services like the NHS. But the thousands of people employed in betting shops and casinos deserve nothing less than a level playing field, so that everyone gets the same opportunities to recover.”