BGC Urges Welsh Government to Protect Jobs
The Betting and Gaming Council has urged the Welsh government to offer business rate relief to its betting shops, casinos and bingo halls. The move would protect jobs affected during the COVID-19 outbreak and bring policy into line with England. In March, the BGC had to write to Chancellor Sunak after the British government excluded gambling firms from emergency business rate relief.
Welsh Jobs at Risk
The Betting and Gaming Council’s chief executive, Michael Dugher has written to Welsh finance minister, Rebecca Evans, with a stark warning. According to Dugher, until the Welsh government offers business rate relief to its gambling businesses, more than 2,000 jobs could be at risk.
“Without assistance with business rates relief, similar to that offered to other sectors in Wales, including other parts of the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, there is a real danger that betting shops and casinos will permanently close leading to the direct loss of over 2000 jobs in Wales.”– Michael Dugher, Chief Executive, Betting and Gaming Council
In April, the UK government announced that it would expand its Business Rates Retail Discount to include casinos, bingo halls and betting shops. Like other businesses that have had to temporarily close during the coronavirus crisis, these firms will get the full business rates relief.
However, in Wales the story is different. The Welsh government has made it clear that its business rate relief policy does not apply to companies operating in the gambling industry. With over 300 betting shops and four casinos in the country, a huge portion of jobs are at risk of being lost altogether.
“I don’t for a single second think that the Welsh Government is saying that 2,000 workers in Wales who are employed in the regulated betting industry are less worthy of the support they get in England, but we urgently need a re-think on rates. These 2,000 jobs are hardworking men and women with bills to pay and families to care for. Their jobs are worth every bit as much as someone doing the same job in England.”
According to the Betting and Gaming Council, an industry association that represents over 90% of businesses in the UK’s gambling industry, the policy amounts to unfair treatment. Bookmakers, casinos and bingo halls all fall under the wider category of hospitality, leisure and entertainment. Other types of businesses in the same category, such as pubs, clubs and restaurants are allowed rates relief.
“Betting shops, bingo halls and casinos in England were thrown a lifeline when the UK Government announced it was extending its business rates relief scheme to cover their premises as well, recognizing the contribution they make to the economy, to sport and the vital part they are playing in the national effort and in communities to cope with the virus.”
The Betting and Gaming Council has also highlighted how valuable its financial contribution to the UK is. It says that the regulated betting industry is worth an estimated £3.2 billion a year to the Treasury. It also contributes around £350 million to horse racing, as well as somewhere in the region of £120 million and £200 million to British tourism.
Government U-Turn on Gambling Snub
The Betting and Gaming Council had to convince the government to allow gambling companies in the rest of the UK to be allowed business rates relief too. In March it initially looked like struggling bookies and casinos would be denied help during the COVID-19 pandemic. When Chancellor Rishi Sunak first announced emergency measures to protect businesses during the outbreak, the gambling industry was left out in the cold.
On March 19th, Michael Dugher and Brigid Simmonds wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer protesting the exclusion of casinos and gambling clubs from emergency business rates relief. The government had justified its stance by describing betting shops as ‘financial services’. However, BGC members are listed on the London Stock Exchange under the leisure industry category.
It took just a matter of days for the Chancellor to take a U-turn on the gambling industry snub. The government has now clarified that BGC members can qualify for a business rates holiday, just like other businesses operating in hospitality, leisure and retail. BGC boss Michael Dugher welcomed the decision and thanked the Government for its support.
“The Government are clearly working night and day to beat the virus and to ensure that jobs and businesses throughout our country are protected. On top of the help on employment, extending help on business rates to all businesses that have had to shut down is another much-needed shot in the arm that will help to protect tens of thousands of jobs. On behalf of those workers in our companies, I’d like to thank the Treasury and cross-party MPs for this and to pay tribute in particular to the DCMS, including our outstanding Minister Nigel Huddleston, for all their support.”
Now the Chancellor’s workers’ support package includes a business rates holiday, as well as next quarter’s VAT payments deferred and a 12-month interest free Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme. Furloughed workers can also receive 80% of their wages up to £2,500 backdated to March 1st.
British businesses are now expected to receive nearly £10 billion in rates relief from the UK government. Businesses hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic won’t have to pay business rates at all during this financial year.