UK Covid-19 measures deal blow to casinos and race tracks

Casinos in England will have to close at 10pm from Thursday.
Casinos in England will have to close at 10pm from Thursday.

Casinos and racecourses are calling for support as the government imposes a 10pm curfew and delays the return of spectators to sports events.

UK.- Casinos and race tracks have reacted with dismay to the government’s latest Covid-19 measures announced yesterday (Tuesday).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a 10pm curfew for leisure businesses, including casinos, in England and a delay to the proposed return of spectators to sports events, including the cancellation of the current pilot project for horseracing.

The industry standards body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), said the curfew was a “death knell” for the industry. It has called on the government to create an “urgent economic package” to support the sector.

Casinos in London had proposed that they could close their bars rather than entire venues at 10pm to minimise the impact on business, but a blanket curfew has been announced starting from Thursday (September 24).

Venues that fail to comply face financial penalties and potentially being shut down.

The measures cover England but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are expected to impose similar restrictions.

With casinos normally doing 70 per cent of their business after 10pm, the BGC fears that 50 per cent of casino workers could lose their jobs.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said: “Boris Johnson may well have signalled the death knell for the casino industry by including them in the list of venues which will be forced to close their doors at 10pm.

“His own public health officials saw for themselves the sophisticated anti-Covid measures which casinos have put in place – and then gave them the go-ahead to re-open just last month because they are Covid-safe.

“It is now absolutely vital that the government throws the industry a lifeline by putting in place an urgent economic package to alleviate the damage that this decision will cause.

“The 10pm curfew will slash casino incomes by up to 75% and likely lead to half their workforce – some 7,000 people – being made redundant.

“Without immediate and substantial financial help from the government, perfectly viable casinos – which between them paid £1.3bn in tax to the Treasury in the last three years – will simply go to the wall.”

Dugher called on the government to extend its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which is scheduled to finish on October 31.

He also said the government should consider the Labour Party’s ‘High Street Fightback Fund’ which would direct funds to businesses affected by the curfew.

The British Horseracing Authority (BHA), meanwhile, has warned that the racing industry faces a “severe threat” due to the indefinite proposal of plans to allow spectators to return to races.

The events in a pilot programme to allow spectators at horse racing events had already begun and it was hoped fans would be able to return to other sporting events from October 1. Now the pilot has been cancelled indefinitely.

The BHA said: “The exemplary response from the spectators in following the measures we put in place has shown that organised events can be run safely. But despite all those efforts, our industry is now facing a severe threat.

“We are the second most attended spectator sport in the country. Without the millions of people who normally enjoy a day at the races, many people’s jobs are at serious risk as are the businesses they work in.”

The BHA will carry out a further assessment of economic impact on racecourses. It has already called for an urgent reform to the horse racing levy after estimating that the British racing industry could lose up to £300m in revenue this year.

BHA chief executive Nick Rust said: “We will urge the government to provide financial support, as they have indicated they are considering, and to accept the case for urgent reform of the Levy.

“Our loyal owners and our key international investors have stood by us and we ask government to work with us to maintain that confidence in racing and in Britain.”

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