Scotland Eases Betting Shop Restrictions

Following calls from the Betting and Gaming Council, Scotland has agreed to reduce restrictions put in place at its betting shops. Easing rules, such as the ban on airing live racing, will encourage Scottish bettors to return to their local bookmakers, protecting the jobs of those employed there. In England, casinos still have not received confirmation as to when they can reopen.

Three slot machines in a betting shop.

Betting shops in Scotland will now be allowed to switch on their gaming machines, although social distancing will still be enforced. ©Daria Sannikova/Pexels

Betting Shops Can Air Live Racing

Following an outcry from industry members, the Scottish Government has issued a U-turn on ‘draconian’ restrictions put in place at betting shops. As part of Scotland’s roadmap out of the coronavirus lockdown, bookmakers were allowed to reopen their doors to the public on June 29th.

However, according to last minute rules put in place by the SNP, shops were made to switch off all gaming machines and remove all chairs. On top of this, shops were also banned from airing live racing. The SNP justified these strict restrictions as a way to ensure that punters would not gather in clusters at betting shops, posing a further risk of spreading the virus.

The Betting and Gaming Council strongly objected to these restrictions, citing that turnover at some establishments had dropped by 95%. Those who would normally have visited betting shops did not bother, while some crossed the border over to England, where restrictions are lesser.

Low customer turnout placed a huge amount of pressure on businesses. Some betting shops have had to face up to the possibility of closing for good, and thousands of jobs have been placed at risk. In response to this, the Betting and Gaming Council campaigned for ministers at Holyrood to overturn the restrictions and protect betting shop employees.

The BGC also published a statement from Andy Bennett, award-winning shop manager at Scotsbet Selkirk. It detailed a first-hand account of the impact that the coronavirus outbreak has had on his business, and Scotland’s betting shops as a whole. He says that the greatest threat to his businesses does not come from coronavirus, but irrational government policies. According to Bennett:

“The first week of opening was met with disbelief from customers who can’t understand why, in the Scottish Borders, the service they get in their local bookie is so vastly inferior to that just a few miles over the border.”

Bennett also explained that betting shops have been routinely misrepresented and misunderstood by those who have never used them. He says that in Scotland around two thirds of the adult population has participated in betting, and only a small minority does so irresponsibly. Bennett also questioned why the Scottish government could not trust betting shop staff to manage social distancing within shops, when staff has already proven their vigilance in following regulations from the Gambling Commission.

The Betting and Gaming Council’s letter to Parliament worked, and the restrictions in Scottish betting shops have been withdrawn. That does not mean that there will be measures in place at shops to stop the spread of coronavirus. Hand sanitizer, plastic screens and social distancing measures will remain in use to protect staff and customers.

Michael Dugher, the chief executive of the BGC has praised the decision. Dugher says that he is delighted that the Scottish government has listened to the BGC’s concerns. Scotland has an estimated 900 betting shops, which employ around 4,500 staff. Speaking in a press release, he said:

“Betting shops in Scotland can now look forward to playing their part in helping to kickstart the economy, supporting Scottish racing and providing a safe environment for customers who enjoy a flutter.”

English Casinos Remain Closed

The relaxing of restrictions in Scotland’s betting shops will come as a huge relief to customers and employees alike. However, much of the UK’s gambling industry is still facing a very uncertain future. In England, the government has denied casinos the chance to reopen in July.

In a recent announcement, DCMS Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden unveiled the latest restrictions to be eased for leisure and hospitality businesses. From July 11th, outdoor swimming pools and open-air sports and performance venues have been allowed to reopen. From July 13th, England’s beauty salons and tattoo studios can also follow suit.

Unfortunately, casinos have not been included in these easing orders. There is not yet any reliable indication of when this will change either. Nightclubs are suffering a similar fate, and are also uncertain as to when they may be allowed to reopen.

The Betting and Gaming Council has urged the government to issue clarity on the matter and to allow casinos to reopen this month. Chief executive Michael Dugher wrote to Chancellor Rishi Sunak earlier this week, encouraging the Treasury to face up to the economic reality of the situation for those affected. Dugher has welcomed the Treasury’s VAT cut for leisure and hospitality businesses.

After the news broke that casinos would not open as soon as hoped, Matt Rudd wrote an open letter, published by the BGC. In it, the general manager of Birmingham’s Broad Street Grosvenor Casino explained how challenging the lockdown has been for him and those who work throughout England’s casinos.

During the lockdown, Rudd’s casino played its part in helping the local community during difficult times. Through Rank’s arrangement with the Blue Light Card scheme, it was able to deliver hot meals to staff at the NHS and emergency services, as well as to other vulnerable groups of people. Rudd says:

“My casino is very much part of the local community; lockdown didn’t change that – it simply gave us a new way of showcasing our community values.”

Over the last few months, casinos have been preparing themselves to reopen, by setting up special measures to protect staff and the public from the virus. Plastic dividers have been installed, hand sanitizer has been bought and systems have been devised to keep chips and cards clean.

Despite this level of preparation, casinos are still closed and staff are still furloughed. According to Rudd, he has already received many calls from members of the public who want to know when his casino will reopen. For now, it is up to the government to offer clarity on when that may be.

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