As UK Betting Shops Reopen June 15, Adult Gaming Centers Must Remain Closed

  • Industry originally believed that AGCs could reopen on June 15 along with betting shops
  • UK government clarified on Thursday night that AGCs will have to wait until July
  • Difficulty with social distancing cited as the main concern with gambling arcades
  • Gaming machine industry group is furious, wants Coronavirus Act language changed
Exterior of adult gaming center in Liverpool
As lockdown restrictions are loosened in the UK, adult gaming centers must remain closed even as betting shops and other non-essential retail get the go-ahead to reopen. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Change of plans for AGCs

Though betting shops will be permitted to reopen in the UK on Monday, June 15, adult gaming centers (AGCs) will not, contrary to what the industry believed just a couple of days ago.

Because the government’s prescribed five tests to easing the lockdown have been met, non-essential retail stores can open Monday. This includes betting shops and was also thought to cover AGCs, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) clarified Thursday night that this is not the case.

The DCMS notified the Gambling Business Group (GBG), which in turn informed its members.

social distancing rules are standing in the way

GBG chief executive Peter Hannibal explained that the DCMS had gone to bat for AGCs, but social distancing rules are standing in the way. There is no way around them without new legislation. Thus, it appears that ADCs will have to wait until at least July 4 to welcome back patrons.

What is the problem?

Current COVID-19 pandemic regulations dictate that for a non-essential retail store to reopen next week, it has to be set up in such a way that customers can find what they need and get out quickly. A typical betting shop fits this description, as guests can walk in, place a wager, and leave.

AGCs, by nature, require customers to stay in the venue for extended periods of time, usually in close proximity to each other. It is rare that a person would pop into an AGC, play one round on a machine, and exit. The government doubts the ability of AGCs and other businesses like pubs to adequately implement social distancing.

Adulting gaming centers, sometimes called arcades in the UK, are effectively mini-casinos. They are permitted to have category B, C, and D gaming machines and are restricted to players aged 18 and older. AGCs must be licensed and cannot have direct access to family entertainment centers or places that sell alcohol.

In his message to GBG members, Hannibal said: “The view is that arcade customers need dwell time to partake in the product, which is at odds with the guidelines.”

Industry group upset

Though it sounds like the Gambling Business Group is taking the last-minute clarification in stride, other industry groups do not seem to be as understanding. The CEO of Bacta, an organization that represents the amusement and gaming machine industry, issued a livid “rallying call” on the trade body’s website on Friday, urging the government to rethink its position.

Bacta CEO John White called the fact that arcades are not being allowed to reopen, even though they were originally grouped with betting shops in the UK’s reopening plan, “a cruel twist of irony.”

There’s no logic to it and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic to the AGC sector.”

“I cannot see how two very similar High Street venues can be treated differently. There’s no logic to it and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic to the AGC sector,” complained White.

White believes that the problem is the “imprecise” language of the Coronavirus Act. He says that the term “amusement arcades” should be swapped out for “family entertainment centers (FECs)”, which are not gambling venues. Thus, the Act would prevent FECs from opening on June 15 and permit AGCs.

Peter Hannibal, however, said: “We did think this problem was caused by the confusion over the interpretation of the word ‘arcade’, but this is clearly not the case here,” again noting that it’s a social distancing issue.