After years of waiting for “modest but mission-critical modernisations” to hit UK land-based casinos, time is very much of the essence when it comes to implementing white paper reforms, warned David Williams, Director of Public Affairs at the Rank Group.

Citing the Guinness mantra of “good things come to those who wait” in a Betting and Gaming Council blog, Williams has reflected on the potentially incoming changes, but cautioned that context is key when it comes to more widespread changes.

Acknowledging that public policies contained with the Gambling Act white paper “are broadly good news”, with much publicised consultations also necessary, “timing is key and, for casinos, progress cannot come a moment too soon,” he wrote.

Labelling the changes as “long overdue”, a launch of the first DCMS-led consultations was recently undertaken, with land-based reforms placed front and centre.

“While the online sector has seen significant growth since the 2005 Gambling Act, casinos and bingo halls continue to operate under outdated rules from that time, restricting their ability to compete,” a DCMS statement detailing its maiden consultations read.

“as we look to protect jobs … and better meet the needs and expectations of today’s customers we don’t have time on our side”

These changes include permitting both larger and smaller casinos to increase the number of their gaming machines to 80 and more than 20, respectively, with an alteration to the 80/20 ratio governing higher to lower stake machines designed to enable venues to better meet customer demands and save on energy costs.

Furthermore, the provision of more widespread electronic payment methods is designed to future proof the industry, while Williams noted that adopting sports betting “will finally bring UK casinos into line with much of the rest of the world”.

“The door is ajar in terms of ensuring our electronic terminals can offer more content which would make our clubs far more contemporary,” he noted.

“For many years, the industry has waited for these modest, but mission-critical modernisations. Finally, we have very nearly got them over the line.

“But, as we look to protect jobs, generate tax receipts and better meet the needs and expectations of today’s customers we don’t have time on our side.”

Williams warned that depleting casino numbers could be exacerbated should reforms not be introduced in a timely manner, with approximately a quarter of Rank’s 51 Grosvenor venues currently loss making. 

“It has been well-documented how the casino industry has been slow to recover from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, alongside inconsistent numbers of overseas travellers coming into London, have combined to hit leisure and entertainment venues like ours harder than most,” he continued.

“…we are hopeful that the government will keep its foot to the floor over the coming months”

“We are chomping at the bit to secure the modernisations that will help us to address these challenges.”

However, despite welcoming further proposals, such as a statutory levy and the introduction of an Ombudsman, Williams cautioned of the need to keep these additional cost burdens in mind with the context of the modernisations.

With land-based casinos expected to contribute a proportion of the additional costs, the potential of “more venues going to the wall” should venues be “hit with extra costs before they are able to benefit from the upside” is warned.

“That is in nobody’s interests as customers would be displaced, RET contributions would be reduced, jobs would be lost and one of the key tenets of the white paper, namely the need to ensure ‘that there is an equitable approach to the regulation of the online and the land based industries’, would be instantly undermined,” he concluded.

“We are far from impatient, but after so many years of waiting for modernising reforms to land-based casinos, we are hopeful that the government will keep its foot to the floor over the coming months to ensure that our venues are able to benefit as soon as possible from the public policies that will do much to sustain jobs, stimulate growth and investment, and shape a brighter future for the UK land-based casino sector.”