London’s casinos have offered to close their bars if plans for a Covid curfew in the capital go ahead amid warnings the shutdown could cost thousands of jobs. London mayor Sadiq Khan is thought to be in favour of a curfew, which would see leisure and hospitality venues forced to close their doors at 10pm.
But in a letter to Mr Khan, the bosses of London’s 26 land-based casinos – including the likes of the Hippodrome, the Grosvenor, Caesars and the Clermont Club – point out that since they do up to 70% of their trade after 10pm, such a move would have a “catastrophic” impact on the sector.
The venues, which contribute in excess of £180 million a year to London’s GDP and help to directly sustain 4,000 jobs – are already trying to re-establish themselves following the impact of the first lockdown, while the collapse of tourism in the capital has also had a severe impact on takings.
The chief executives point out that senior public health officials – including Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van Tam – gave the go-ahead for casinos to safely re-open their doors last month after seeing the anti-Covid measures they had put in place.
These include Perspex screens, hand sanitisation stations, strict social distancing and best-in-class track and trace systems.
Casino bosses also stress the severe economic impact of having to close their doors after 10pm.
Overall, the venues employ some 14,000 people across the UK and paid £1.3bn to the Treasury in tax over the last three years.
The letter says: “If London is subjected to a 10pm curfew, most of our casinos will be unviable and some will inevitably close, with the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in the capital as the furlough scheme nears its end.”
Instead, the chief executives say their venues could stop selling alcohol after 10pm, thereby dealing with fears that large groups could congregate to drink.
“By all means address the core issue of drinking rather than slamming a blanket curfew on our venues which would do nothing to suppress the spread of the virus but which would simply sound the death knell for jobs and for famous London casinos,” their letter to Mr Khan says.
“Closing our bars rather than our entire casinos would have a more limited impact on our revenues, would protect jobs, preserve the future of casinos and would retain tax receipts for the Treasury.”
The letter also points out that the average age of a casino visitor is 48, meaning they are highly unlikely to see groups of young people congregating into the small hours.
Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “We support the need to act quickly to protect public health and thank the Government for the help they have given to casinos during the pandemic.
“However, it is no exaggeration to say that a blanket 10pm curfew would be devastating for a sector which does more than half of its business after that time and which is still struggling to get back on its feet following the first lockdown and the collapse of tourism.
“The 10pm curfew just risks encouraging young people to mix in households, where there is no track and trace, and spreading the virus further and faster. But if the London Mayor or Government want to close pubs and restaurants at 10pm, we can do that in the casinos too, while continuing to provide a best-in-class Covid-secure environment. This might be a sensible compromise.
“The alternative is the prospect of thousands of job losses – both in London and across the UK – and the permanent closure of some of the capital’s most iconic casinos that can help power our much-needed economic recovery.”