UK Casinos Propose Alcohol Ban

In a bid to avoid closure, casinos have offered to stop selling alcohol to customers. New coronavirus restrictions are coming into place up and down the UK, as a second wave of the virus continues to spread. However, casinos fear that more lockdown measures could result in thousands of jobs being lost permanently.

A blue sorry we're closed sign in a shop door.

As the R rate continues to rise throughout the UK, casinos and other hospitality businesses will be forced to return into lockdown. ©Ellie Burgin/Pexels

New Three-Tier System

The Betting and Gaming Council, an industry body that represents the UK’s casinos, online operators and bookmakers, has warned that shutting casinos could have a dire impact. Vouching for the sector, the BGC pointed out that the UK’s casinos support an estimated 14,000 people. It also highlighted the £1.3 billion raised by the sector for the Treasury over the last three years.

Boris Johnson’s new three-tier system of local lockdowns is being unveiled, and will impact casinos, pubs and gyms. Restrictions will be put in place, based on a three-tiered alert system, ranging from medium to high or very high. The new measures will see some businesses forced to close, travel restrictions and curbs on household mixing. The Prime Minister is currently chairing a Cobra meeting, and further details are expected to come out soon.

Casinos are already struggling, because of the lockdowns and restrictions that have already been in place this year. Last month’s 10pm curfew, which the BGC warned against, has put particular strain on venues. Compared to this time last year, casino revenues are down by 70%. Being forced to close again could be the final nail in the coffin, so businesses are eager to try anything that will let them stay open.

The offer to stop selling alcohol could allow casinos to be removed from the list of businesses that must close. Bars and restaurants, which have also been subject to the curfew, are now expected to go back into lockdown. As the government tries once more to lower the R rate, restrictions are being put in place to reduce the numbers of people socializing.

The BGC’s chief executive, Michael Dugher, has written to all MPs on behalf of the UK’s casinos. He says that they have already done enough by putting into place strict safety measures such as Perspex screens, social distancing rules and track and trace systems. According to Public Health England, these measures are ‘Covid-secure’, so Dugher argues that businesses should be allowed to stay open.

Dugher also argues that transmission of the virus at casinos has been negligible and that the tax revenues generated are vital for the Treasury during these difficult times. In his letter to MPs, Michael Dugher writes:

“Ministers need to understand that casinos are not pseudo-nightclubs or places where young people go to drink. Nevertheless, they are willing to reduce their risk levels even further by refusing to serve alcohol, which the Government seems to think is another factor in the spread of the virus.”

The BGC says that closing casinos is avoidable, and has urged the government to remain guided by the data. Responding to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement that fresh support would be available for businesses that have to close, a BGC spokesman said:

“Casinos want to return as quickly as possible to a situation where they are generating revenues for the Treasury rather than relying on their financial support. But in the event of further closures, they will inevitably be taking advantage of the Chancellor’s latest announcement, which will provide some comfort to thousands of staff who remain fearful for their jobs.”

Whether MPs take up Dugher’s call to lobby for casinos remains to be seen. What is clear is that more tough times lie ahead for British casinos and the gambling industry as a whole. A round of drastic legislative changes are expected, with the government due to finalize its review of the 2005 Gambling Act soon.

Scotland Gets Tough on Virus

Scotland has already unveiled its new lockdown measures, which will see casinos throughout the center of the country closed. Major cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow are included in the updated restrictions. Last week the country’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that all indoor hospitality venues would be required to close their doors after 6pm. This curfew will continue for a period of sixteen days, until October 25th, and is hoped to cut the number of coronavirus infections.

The restrictions cover five health boards in the middle of Scotland. These are Ayrshire and Arran, Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Lanarkshire, and Lothian. In these areas, pubs and restaurants will have to close. Elsewhere, alcohol can only be served outdoors.

While these might seem like drastic measures, they come in response to a significant spike in positive cases of the virus. In just one day, Scotland saw over 1,000 positive test results. Unveiling a new £40 million support fund, Nicola Sturgeon explained the need for stronger restrictions:

“It is by taking the tough but necessary action now that we hope to avoid even tougher action in future.”

The BGC described the restrictions on Scottish casinos as a ‘huge blow’, especially as these businesses have only been open for a short time. However, it did welcome Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement that there would be financial support available for businesses in the hospitality sector that have had to close.

Welsh Casinos Face Uncertainty

In Wales there is hope that casinos will be allowed to remain open, at least for the time being. Welsh casinos were some of the last in the UK allowed to reopen after lockdown. The BGC was forced to step in, when the country’s First Minister Mark Drakeford compared casinos to nightclubs. The BGC strongly rejected this viewpoint from the Welsh government. Categorising casinos in this way prolonged their closure, until they were finally allowed to reopen on August 29th.

Wales is home to four casinos; Les Croupiers, Grosvenor Cardiff, Grosvenor Swansea and Rainbow Casino. The latter has already been forced to close, and there are worries that the rest could soon follow suit. Casinos like Grosvenor have the benefit of being part of a wider company that operates online casino sites. The online casino sector has remained popular as many bettors have opted to gamble from home during the lockdown.

On the other hand, the outlook for casinos that run as stand alone businesses is bleaker, as they have no safety net. Les Croupiers and Rainbow Casino both fall into this category. Unlike in England, Welsh casinos are allowed to stay open after the curfew, provided that no alcohol is served to customers after 10pm.

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