Welsh Lockdown Shuts Betting Shops

Betting shops and casinos in Wales will be forced to close their doors to the public again on Friday, as the country goes into a ‘firebreak’ lockdown. First Minister Mark Drakeford has announced that restrictions will come into place once more, in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. However, some in the industry are less than happy about the situation and have called for improved support for businesses.

A young woman wearing a facemask.

Incoming restrictions mean that casinos and betting shops in Wales will have to close. ©Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels

What Are the New Rules?

This Friday, Wales will go into a ‘circuit-breaker’ style lockdown, as the UK continues to struggle with the rate at which COVID-19 is spreading. The lockdown will last from October 23rd until November 9th. For the people of Wales, this will mean a number of lifestyle changes, most importantly no more gatherings. Different households will no longer be allowed to meet, inside or outside.

People are also advised to stay at home when possible, although exercise and essential journeys will be allowed. Nurseries and primary schools may remain open, but in secondary schools only pupils in years seven and eight will attend in person. The lockdown will also have a huge impact on businesses, many of which will be forced to close.

Non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and hotels will have to close. Likewise, leisure facilities, libraries and places of worship will also have to shut, although funerals and weddings may continue. This rule will impact all betting shops and casinos in Wales. The country is home to 366 betting shops and three casinos.

In addition to closures of non-essential retail, unnecessary travel across the Welsh border will also be subject to a temporary ban. Announcing the strict new measures , First Minister Mark Drakeford said that measures are designed to rapidly slow down the virus and buy more time. The NHS is already under enormous pressure treating existing cases, so it is vital that the R-rate does not continue to rise.

Public Health Wales recorded 4,127 new cases of the virus between October 9th and October 15th. This has put the country’s R-rate at over 130 cases per 100,000 people. The Welsh government will put into place a support package worth nearly £300 million to support businesses that are forced to close. Small business rate relief will offer payments of £1000, while one-off payments worth up to £5000 will be available to small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses.

Impact on Casinos and Bookmakers

The reaction to the strict new measures coming into place later this week has been mixed. While some have praised the restrictions, it is clear that the retail sector will feel the impact of the loss business. The period leading up to Christmas, in which a fifth of goods are purchased, is vital for traders. Perishable items, such as food and drink, will go to waste and a lack of sales will leave some businesses unable to recoup the cost of buying new stock.

The Betting and Gaming Council has raised concerns over the impact that the lockdown will have on Welsh bookmakers and casinos. In a tweet, it called for better support from the government for businesses. The tweet read:

“Following confirmation of a 17-day #COVID19 lockdown in Wales, the BGC is urging the Government to come up with the necessary package of financial support for businesses affected, including 366 betting shops and 3 casinos employing 2,000 people between them.”

Casinos in Wales have already spent a large portion of the year closed to the public. Venues were forced to shut in March, and were only allowed to reopen on August 29th. In mid-August, the BGC strongly rejected comments from Mark Drakeford, after he compared casinos to nightclubs. That comparison has continued to dog policy when it comes to how casinos have been allowed to operate during the pandemic.

The BGC has repeatedly emphasized that young people do not visit casinos to drink. Pubs, clubs and other locations serving alcohol have born the brunt of restrictions, as they are locations in which people gather to socialize. Earlier this month, casinos offered to stop selling alcohol on the condition that they could remain open. However, the news of incoming restrictions casts doubt on that possibility.

Tier 3 Lockdown in Lancashire and Merseyside

In England, new COVID-19 restrictions will also impact the gambling industry. A tier system has been brought in, which fine-tunes measures to local virus rates. In areas that fall into Tier 3, alongside other non-essential businesses, betting shops and casinos must close. Affected areas include Lancashire and the Liverpool City Region.

The Betting and Gaming Council has protested this, claiming that closing these bookmakers and casinos will do more harm than good. In Lancashire, an estimated 200 betting shops and three casinos are closed. For the 1,100 employees who must also stay at home, the future is uncertain. Michael Dugher, chief executive of the BGC had the following to say.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, betting shops and casinos have played their full role in the national effort to tackle this virus. It is therefore hugely disappointing that as they are starting to get back on their feet again, those venues in Merseyside and Lancashire have had the rug pulled from under them.”

Dugher went on to add that he could see no evidence that closing betting shops and casinos would slow the spread of coronavirus, especially when safety measures like plastic screens and sanitizer have already been put in place. He also described other potential knock-on effects. For instance, horseracing could suffer, as it will experience a dip in revenue from bettors.

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A blue shop sign, reading 'sorry we're closed'.

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