The Betting and Gaming Council has called on the UK government to take a “science-led approach” and allow casinos and betting shops to safely re-open when the latest England-wide Covid lockdown ends.
The standards body, which represents the regulated betting and gaming industry, said there was no evidence that the venues have contributed to the spread of the virus.
It called for an end to the “arbitrary and unnecessary decisions” which led to bookies being lumped in with hospitality venues – meaning those in Tier 3 areas in England had to shut – despite the Government officially classifying them as “non-essential retail”.
Casinos in England were also ordered to close their doors at 10pm, despite their excellent anti-Covid measures – including perspex screens, track and trace systems and strict social distancing – being described as the best in the hospitality and leisure sector by senior public health officials who inspected them.
Meanwhile, those in Tier 3 were ordered to close entirely, despite other venues, such as pubs, being allowed to stay open provided they serve substantial meals.
Since re-opening their doors in the summer, casinos and bookies have operated safely, contributing vital tax revenues to the Exchequer and, in the case of betting shops, millions of pounds to horseracing in levy and media rights payments.
But following Boris Johnson’s announcement on Saturday night, every casino and betting shop in England will be forced to shut once again until at least December 2.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said he welcomed the extension to the furlough scheme which has been announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
But he said it was vital that when the latest lockdown is lifted, casinos and betting shops are allowed to re-open from day one so they can get back to contributing to the economy rather than relying on Government subsidies.
The BGC’s call follows growing parliamentary pressure for greater transparency from the Government amid concerns that ministers are not following the science.
Leading MPs have tabled parliamentary questions demanding the Government publish the Public Health England advice they have received, as well as any data they have justifying their decision- process.
Mr Dugher said: “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.
“We also welcome the support for businesses forced to close under the second lockdown.
“But when we exit this, the Government must have a science-led approach and avoid the arbitrary and unnecessary decisions that led to random closures of casinos and betting shops, which damage employment and revenues to the Exchequer.
“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. Casinos, which have the best anti-Covid 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.”