Gambling Firms Wont Get Business Rates Relief

The UK’s gambling industry will not be eligible for emergency business rates relief, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled the emergency measures put in place to protect struggling businesses, it emerged that gambling firms will be left out in the cold. The Betting and Gaming Council has criticized the decision and called upon the government to protect gambling businesses.

A scientist in a lab, developing a vaccine in test tubes.

While scientists race to develop vaccines, Europe and beyond is going into lockdown to stem the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. ©Martin Lopez/Pexels

Emergency Measures to Help Businesses

Earlier this week Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, announced that special measures would be put in place to protect businesses in the UK affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. The £330 billion emergency rescue package, the most drastic measure since wartime, aims to provide relief for businesses that have been forced to pare back operations or close completely.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated Sunak’s financial plan, confirming that the Treasury had put aside £330 billion in business loans. This staggering amount is equal to 15% of the GDP, which highlights just how serious the situation for the UK’s economy is right now.

Emergency measures include cash grants worth £25,000 that will be made to firms operating in retail, leisure and hospitality. Small businesses in other sectors will also be able to apply for grants worth £10,000.

Business rates will also be scrapped for 12 months for companies operating the retail, leisure and hospitality. Chancellor Sunak explained “Every single shop, pub, theater, music venue, restaurant … will pay no business rates for 12 months.”. However, gambling companies have been excluded from this offer.

The extreme situation has drawn comparisons to a country at war. Boris Johnson told the UK in a speech that “We must act like any wartime government and do whatever it takes to support our economy… Yes, this enemy can be deadly, but it is also beatable.”

The Prime Minister has faced a high degree of scrutiny over the speed of the government’s response, as the number of cases of COVID-19 in the UK continues to rise. Businesses such as pubs, clubs and restaurants, as well as betting shops and casinos, have been forced to close to the public as everyone has been told to self-isolate.

As Sunak unveiled the new financial measures, he said “I want to reassure every British citizen, this government will give you all the tools you need to get through this”. However, this statement might not ring so true for employees in the gambling industry, which is not covered by the business rate holiday.

British betting shops and casinos will not qualify for business rates relief. Other businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will be able to make insurance claims against their policies and will have 12 months of business rates waived.

The BGC Fights Back

The Betting and Gaming Council, a standards body which represents gambling firms in the UK, say that this is not good enough. The organization’s Chief Executive Michael Dugher and Chair Brigid Simmonds OBE have penned an open letter to the government, urging it to reconsider the decision.

The BGC opened the letter with praise for the Chancellor’s actions to protect British businesses and the economy. At first glance it seemed that betting shops and bingo halls would qualify for the 12-month break on business rates. However, further comments from the Treasury clarified that this wouldn’t be the case.

“The Business Rates Local Authority Guidance (published 18 March) specifically excludes ‘casinos and gambling clubs’, which presumably includes bingo halls, as well as classifying high street betting shops, in antiquated terms, as being part of ‘financial services’ – despite our members’ clear listing on the London Stock Exchange as part of the leisure industry. Any suggestion that casinos are not part of the leisure industry is frankly bizarre when they provide entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year.”

The letter questioned why staff working in the gambling industry would be made to suffer, while others working in the leisure industry would be protected. It went on to request that the Chancellor include betting shops, casinos and bingo halls in support on business rates.

The pandemic has already cost British Bookies, as most major sporting events have been canceled. Betting shops and casinos have now all had to close, as customers and workers must practice social distancing. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many operators will now have to turn their sights to offering more innovative online wagering opportunities.

Workers’ Support Package

Since Dugher and Simmonds wrote to the Chancellor, new measures have been brought in which offer more support to those employed in the gambling industry. The workers’ support package promises to pay 80% of wages up to £2,500 for an initial period of three months.

The Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be interest-free for one year. Other measures include VAT payments for the next quarter being deferred and increased support for people who have been made redundant or are self-employed.

Speaking as a representative of the gambling industry, Dugher said that the BGC would cooperate with government advice and contribute towards efforts to beat the virus and protect the British public. Roughly 64,000 jobs in the betting and gaming industry are however at risk, so the BGC will continue to campaign for further protections.

“We will be scrutinizing carefully the package of measures announced by the Chancellor to ensure our members and their hardworking, valued staff get the full benefit of this. We will also be pressing the Chancellor to be consistent and do the right thing by people in our industry by giving them the same access to help on business rates that every other leisure business enjoys and who have now similarly been asked to temporarily shutdown.”Michael Dugher, Chief Executive, Betting and Gaming Council

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