Scottish Lockdown Closes Bookies
New coronavirus restrictions in Scotland mean that more than half of the country’s betting shops will be forced to close. The new measures have been brought in to help curb the spread of COVID-19, ahead of the Christmas period. However, the decision will have an impact on businesses, such as betting shops and casinos, as they will not be allowed to trade and workers will have to be furloughed.
Tough Lockdown Ahead of Christmas
An estimated 500 betting shops are expected to shut up shop in Scotland from November 20th, when new coronavirus restrictions come into place. Some of the country’s local authorities are due to enter level four restrictions, to combat the spread of COVID-19. Scotland’s betting shops and casinos are both categorized as non-essential, so will be subject to the mandatory closures.
Areas that fall into the level four category will see all non-essential retail and hospitality venues close their doors until December 11th. This will include pubs, restaurants, cinemas, salons and gyms, although takeaways services will be allowed to operate. Schools will also be allowed to stay open.
People will be encouraged to stay and work from home if possible. Socializing inside homes will not be allowed, and meetings outside will be limited to up to six people from two households. Non-essential travel out of level three and four areas will be banned by law, as will non-essential travel between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
In total, eleven council areas will fall under level four lockdown rules from 6pm on the 20th. These areas include Glasgow, Renfrewshire and Stirling, amongst others. East Lothian and Midlothian are planned to be brought down from level three to level two on November 24th.
While the new measures will result in closure for a significant portion of the country’s betting shops, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has reassured that professional sports will be allowed to continue. That will at least allow online bookies to offer some odds, but will be of little comfort to high-street betting shops. Announcing the incoming restrictions, Sturgeon explained the need for action:
“Stubbornly high prevalence means that we might have less flexibility to offer some limited and careful easing of restrictions over the Christmas period, which we are very keen to do and I’m sure all of you are very keen for us to do as well. So moving to level four restrictions for a limited period in some areas, while not a decision we will ever take lightly because of the wider economic and social impacts, would help us to address both of these concerns.”
The Betting and Gaming Council, which represents the UK’s bookmakers, casinos and online operators, has commented on the disruption to business in Scotland. It issued a press release responding to Sturgeon’s announcement, underlining its support of the safety measures. It stated:
“The BGC fully supports the Scottish Government’s efforts to slow the spread of Covid-19. Nevertheless, it is extremely disappointing for staff and customers that betting shops in these council areas will now unfortunately have to close, not least because of the excellent anti-Covid measures which have enabled them to operate safely since they re-opened in the summer. We hope that the shops will be able to re-open as soon as possible so they can go back to contributing to the economy.”
Calls for Government Support
Earlier in November, Sturgeon’s government was warned about the impact that lockdown closures would have on Scotland’s gambling firms. Scotbet, the country’s largest independent bookmaker, urged the First Minister to improve support, after it found that it was unable to receive business rates relief or small business grants. Such support was denied, despite the company’s premises being closed for more than three months during the beginning of the lockdown.
Scotbet found itself on the brink of administration last year, before it was saved by a management buyout. As a result, 30 betting shops and nearly 130 jobs were rescued. This year, the pandemic has already come at a cost for bookies and now Scotbet is facing uncertainty once more. Ithas warned that it may not be able to survive the winter without government support. Chairman of Scotbet, John Heaton, wrote a strongly worded letter to Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, saying:
“It is simply no way to treat a Scottish business struggling to survive in the grip of a pandemic. Due to the Covid restrictions we were forced to close our shops for over three months in March. At the time, small businesses throughout the UK were promised help in the form of small business grants and 12 months of business rates relief. It allowed many independent operators in England, which would otherwise have failed, to remain in business.”
Heaton criticized the fact that betting shops were excluded from support systems, leaving businesses facing uncertain futures and jobs at risk. He added that Scotbet, and businesses like it, are facing impending court action over their non-payment of rates, even though they were not allowed to open for trade. Scotland eased betting shop restrictions in July, meaning that businesses have already missed out on a large portion of the year.
Heaton’s words have been backed up by Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs. Briggs, who is also a member of the Cross Party Group on Horseracing at the Scottish Parliament, described the decision to exclude betting shops from support as “baffling”. He has written to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture to ask for this to be amended.