Friday, 24 July 2020

Scottish Government Criticised For Banning Bet Shop Gaming Machines


The Scottish Government has been criticised for its decision to ban gaming machines at betting shops.

Like England, Scotland entered a COVID-19 lockdown earlier this year but allowed betting shops to open on June 29. However, customers were banned from sitting on chairs and betting shops were prohibited from showing live racing and allowing gambling on their gaming machines.

The bans saw a 95% fall in turnover for Scottish betting shops but, after a successful campaign by the BGC, Scotland lifted the betting shop restrictions on July 22nd. Now, just days later, Scotland has taken a u-turn and reinstated the restrictions in fear that gaming machines could help spread coronavirus.

In a report published on the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) website, the BGC revealed that an official from the Scottish Government had issued a letter to BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher, saying: “Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance.

“The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore, the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”

However, a previous letter issued last week confirmed that the restrictions on betting shops would be lifted on July 22nd, sparking confusion and anger amongst those in the industry, particularly betting shops throughout Scotland.

What’s more, the Scottish Government has also been criticised for excluding betting shops from a scheme which offers companies a 100% business rate relief for a year to cope with the financial impact of coronavirus.

Speaking about the Scottish Government’s decision to omit betting shops, Brigid Simmonds, the Chair of the BGC, said in a statement: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief for a year to help them cope with the impact of COVID-19. Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.”

Simmonds added: “I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”

John Heaton, the boss of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest betting shop group, also criticised the Government’s u-turn on game machines, saying: “We’re now incurring all the cost of the in-shop product with the benefit of the machines. It’s the worse of all worlds. They seem determined to put as many betting shops out of business as they can, and it’s independent shops like ours that will suffer the most.”

The BGC has urged the Scottish Government to reconsider its decision to ban gaming machines at bookmakers across the country. The firm has also pleaded with the Scottish Government to introduce business rates relief for all betting shops in Scotland, but the government has not yet issued a response on the matter.

The Situation In England

The news comes not long after the government in England announced that casino venues throughout the country would be allowed to open up again from August 1st. The news was applauded by the gambling industry, in particular by the BGC who had extensively campaigned and urged the government to reopen casino venues.

Praising the announcement, BGC’s Michael Dugher said: “After four long months of lockdown, it’s fantastic to see casinos will reopen safely for business again on1 August. I am delighted that they can now play their part in supporting the recovery of the tourism and hospitality sector.

“BGC casino members went the extra mile to meet strict COVID guidelines some weeks ago but were left in the dark as to when they would be allowed to reopen. I’d like to thank DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden, Minister Nigel Hiddleston, and the many cross-party MPs who supported us and worked hard to secure a reopening date.”

Unfortunately, the government’s decision came a few weeks too late as Genting Casino announced that it would be cutting over 1,600 jobs and closing three of its casino venues permanently. As we reported last week, venues in Bristol, Torquay, and Bristol will be shut down while venues in Blackpool, Birmingham, London, and Edinburgh will have around half of their staff cut.

Meanwhile, popular bingo brand Buzz Bingo announced that it too would be closing venues, around 26 in total. The venue closures come as an aftereffect of the COVID-19 lockdown and the government’s long-winded decision to reopen gambling venues, and they will lead to hundreds of jobs being cut across the country.

The reopening of casino venues in England means that around 12,000 people who work at casino venues can return to their jobs. However, Scotland and Wales both have yet to announce reopening dates for their casinos, affecting around 2,000 people in work in the industry.

What Will Casinos Be Like When They Reopen?

When casinos in England reopen, they will be somewhat different to how you know them. All casino venues will need to follow social distancing measures which means venues may limit the number of people allowed in at any time. What’s more, customers will need to remain at a distance from each other and croupiers.

Many venues have already announced that they’re erected screens between gaming machines and have set up several hand sanitiser dispensers throughout the building which customers are expected to use. What’s more, venues have confirmed that they will regularly clean table games, machines, casino chips, and more throughout the day.

Although cash will still be accepted at some venues such as Grosvenor Casino in Hull, customers will be encouraged to use contactless payment when possible. Finally, many venues have also implemented shields at tills to protect customers and employees at all times, and everyone will be encouraged to wear masks, as required by the UK Government.

Visiting casinos in England in August will be drastically different from how everything was pre-lockdown, but the industry will be able to start recovering from the long lockdown months.