BGC Rejects ‘Nightclub’ Casino Comparison

The Betting and Gaming Council has rejected comments made by the Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford comparing casinos to nightclubs. The industry body has been campaigning hard for clarity from governments in Wales and England over when casinos will be allowed to reopen to the public. It says that prolonged closures are putting jobs at risk, and could result in some of the UK’s most historic venues closing for good.

A croupier deals out cards at a casino.

Casinos have put in safety measures ready for reopening, such as transparent dividers to separate croupiers from customers. ©Javon Swaby/Pexels

Casinos Not Like Nightclubs

The Betting and Gaming Council has responded to comments made by Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, who compared casinos to nightclubs. Drakeford made the comments during a Facebook Live session on Monday. The First Minister likened the two types of entertainment venues, saying that they posed similar risks in terms of spreading coronavirus.

Addressing viewers in a live session, the First Minister said that reopening casinos would be looked at again as part of the review every three weeks. Describing his view of casinos, Drakeford said:

“Just as I described nightclubs as places that are generally dark and intimate, well casinos are the same aren’t they? You know, they are places where people are close to one another and where the atmosphere is part of the product that is on offer.”

The Betting and Gaming Council has strongly opposed the comparison, inviting Drakeford and members of Public Health Wales to view for themselves the special safety measures that have been prepared at casinos. Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC, raised his concerns in a letter. He called the comparison ‘neither true nor fair’, and went on to explain how harmful the uncertainty over opening has been for staff and the industry as a whole. Dugher said:

“Casinos are not remotely like nightclubs and have invested heavily to ensure that our venues are safe for both our colleagues and customers alike. Ensuring the safety of our staff and customers is paramount, and the extensive work undertaken by the sector to ensure that casinos are ready to re-open safely shows this.”

In preparation, casinos have put in place COVID-19 safety measures, so that they can be ready to open as soon as they are given the go-ahead to do so. Measures include installing transparent screens, creating hand-sanitizing stations, providing thorough track and trace systems and ensuring that social distancing can be carried out. This has all come at a cost though, which will become increasingly difficult to offset the longer casinos remain shut.

Wales is home to four casinos, which employ an estimated 300 staff. For now, staff have been furloughed, however the government’s furlough scheme is due to come to an end in October. The Welsh government has failed to give its casinos any real indication of when they may be allowed to reopen. According to Dugher, Welsh casinos are more than ready to reopen, and in doing so will be able to support the economy.

Historic Venues Under Threat

Casinos elsewhere in the UK have faced similar uncertainty. Casinos in Scotland have been given the green light to reopen later this month, on August 24th. It is good news for Scotland’s eleven casinos, which support 800 jobs.

In England, the story is far less positive. Casinos had been busy getting ready to reopen in time for August 1st. However, a last minute U-turn from the government has caused widespread disappointment, as it told casinos to stay closed for at least two more weeks.

The BGC has warned that the continued closure of casinos is putting some of the UK’s most iconic landmarks at risk. These include Les Ambassadeurs, the Mayfair casino that featured in classic James Bond movie ‘Dr. No’, as well as the Beatles’ movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’.

Another famous venue under threat is The Hippodrome casino, which has been home to the popular Magic Mike Live show. In its heyday, The Hippodrome hosted stars like Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, The Jackson 5 and Harry Houdini. This was also where Julie Andrews, of ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘The Sound of Music’ fame, made her stage debut at just twelve years old.

Historic venues like these attract tourists from around the world to London and the wider UK. According to the BGC, more than 100 casinos are now at risk of closing down permanently. It has called on the government to extend the furlough scheme, as the two-week delay on opening in England has cost an estimated £14 million.

London has often been ranked in the top three casino cities in the world. The UK’s casinos bring in more than £300 million every year to the economy. However, the government’s U-turn just twelve hours before venues were set to reopen could result in the loss of up to 6,000 jobs, which is around half of the overall jobs in the sector.

Once the furlough scheme comes to an end, casinos will have to pay National Insurance and pension contributions for staff by themselves. If casinos are still closed at this point, the combination of mounting costs could be the final nail in the coffin for businesses. The industry body’s chief executive, Michael Dugher, explained:

“World famous and iconic venues like the Hippodrome and Les Ambassadeurs are not just part of our proud past, they want to be part of economic revival in the future. They are not looking for a hand out – they are looking to help out. By reopening safely so they can play their part in contributing to getting the economy moving again and to contributing vital tax revenues to the Exchequer.”

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