Casinos in England dismayed by second u-turn on reopening

Casinos in England had been expecting to reopen on Saturday.
Casinos in England had been expecting to reopen on Saturday.

The BGC says government strategy is in “disarray” as casino reopenings are postponed until at least August 15.

UK.- Industry association, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has written to the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer to voice the industry’s “utter dismay” at the decision to again postpone the reopening of casinos in England. 

Casinos were due to reopen on Saturday (August 1), but with just one day to go, the government on Friday announced the easing of lockdown measures would be postponed by at least two weeks.

The announcement came as areas in the north of England returned to stricter lockdown restrictions after increases in the number of Covid-19 cases.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to “squeeze the brake pedal” on the country’s exit from lockdown.

Casinos in England will now not be able to reopen until at least August 15.  

The delay has been greeted with dismay by the BGC, which had lobbied for casinos to be allowed to reopen.

In a letter to the UK Finance Minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, BGC Chief Executive Michael Dugher said the about-turn was “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and thousands of staff they employ.”

He wrote: “We were told that the strategy was to move to regional and local lockdowns, yet the government’s announcement today forces all casinos to remain closed.

“It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses.”

He said the government’s strategy was in disarray with contradictory measures, countering any suggestion that casinos were higher risk than bars or other businesses.

He reasserted that casino operators had invested in preparing properties for the pandemic with perspex screens, sanitisation and track and trace systems.

Casinos had recalled staff from furlough to reopen on Saturday, and Dugher warned that after spending millions on preparations, operators may now be forced to announce “significant redundancies” in a sector that employs over 14,000.

He said: “This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly five months. Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry.

“The support from HM Treasury, such as the Job Retention Scheme, has really helped but now our members will be forced to pay National Insurance on top of salaries in August while they remain closed.

“As furlough payments are phased out, there will be no flexibility for casinos to adapt to the new working and leisure environment when they are eventually allowed to reopen.”

Lee Hall, Venue Director at Alea Casino in Nottingham, told the Nottingham Post: “We have put in a one-way system, temperature checks will be taken, we have very few touch points, all the equipment has been spread out – it’s been a huge job in a venue this size.

“We – meaning casinos as a whole – also have the most sophisticated track and trace system in the UK. We can actually track each gaming table and know where people were sitting and who they were near.”

He added: “The Government has classed us as high risk and we don’t know why.

“If you look at what we actually are, it doesn’t make sense. We have a bar – bars are open. We have a restaurant – also open. And we have arcade machines – which again, have opened. We are also heavily regulated anyway and we have put restrictions on our occupancy. We are not encouraging large groups to visit just to drink.”

Casinos across the UK have been closed since lockdown began on March 20. Betting shops reopened on June 15 and bingo halls on July 4. Casinos initially expected to also be able to reopen from July 4 but at the last moment it was announced they would not be included in that phase.

Casinos north of the border in Scotland have only just been given a preliminary date of August to reopen. 

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