BGC slams UK government’s damaging COVID strategy after casino u-turn

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The Betting and Gaming Council has expressed “utter dismay” after the UK governement announced that casinos across England will remain closed for at least two more weeks.

The establishments were due to re-open from tomorrow (August 1), however, those plans have been shelved after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed a delay of ‘at least a fortnight’ in the easing of lockdown restrictions.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak MP, the BGC described the decision as “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and thousands of staff they employ.”

Michael Dugher, BGC chief executive, wrote: “It appears that the Government’s strategy for dealing with COVID is in disarray. 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. 

“Why, for example, should casinos in Bristol, where there are low recorded cases of COVID, remain closed when the spikes in COVID are in other parts of the country? It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses (‘households may go to hospitality, for instance bars and pubs’).”

Furthermore, the industry standards body has also challenged the PM’s assertion today that businesses such as casinos are “higher risk,” a charge it described as “bizarre and quite wrong.” 

Casinos have invested heavily to ensure their premises are COVID-secure, with measures such as perspex screens, sanitisation equipment and sophisticated track and trace systems, as well as introducing other changes and strict social distancing measures. 

The sector has also been working closely with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Public Health England to ensure that all venues were ready to re-open safely from tomorrow.

Dugher commented: “This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly 5 months. Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry. They employ over 14,000 people and indirectly support another 4,000 jobs across the UK, and last year casinos paid over £5.7m in tax per week.

“Casinos want to get back in business and once again contributing to the economy. The DCMS have supported our efforts to get casinos reopened, yet have been excluded from this shambolic decision. Having made the necessary preparations for reopening, we call on the government to permit casinos to reopen.”

Dugher also said that casino operators had spent millions of pounds preparing to reopen, including recalling staff off furlough, training and food and beverage supplies, and warned that “significant redundancies” could now result from the u-turn.

“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,” he concludes.

“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.”