English Retail Gambling Industry Offers Stricter COVID-19 Restrictions to Secure Reopening

  • BGC CEO Michael Dugher spearheaded efforts, including letters to Cabinet ministers
  • The stricter measures would include capacity limits for both betting shops and casinos
  • Six casinos in England have closed permanently as a result of the pandemic so far
  • The BGC has been critical of the government's handling of the crisis in regards to the industry
Hippodrome Casino in London at night
Casino and betting shop operators in England have offered to enforce stricter health and safety limits in a bid to reopen amid the country’s second pandemic lockdown. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

An “unprecedented” offer

Through the shared voice of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), operators across England have offered to introduce stricter COVID-19 health and safety restrictions in an effort to reopen casinos and betting shops amid the region’s second lockdown.

the industry would go further to ensure it is COVID-secure

In letters to Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, BGC CEO Michael Dugher said the industry would go further to ensure it is COVID-secure. In return, the executive asked for the government to permit casinos and betting shops to reopen in Tier 3 areas – a classification which currently spans the entire country.

The BGC first shared the announcement of the “unprecedented offer” on its Twitter page:

The stricter casino restrictions would include a 25% capacity limit and total ban on alcohol. Operators also ensured they would stop live gaming such as roulette, blackjack, and poker. Meanwhile, betting shops proposed a time limit for customers stay at a property, capacity limits, and the closure of vending and hot drink facilities.

Reasons for the plea

It has been a difficult period for English casinos and betting shops so far this year. In March, land-based gambling activities were banned for a number of months as the region faced its first pandemic lockdown. Although the government allowed all retail properties to reopen again by the end of Summer, England entered a fresh lockdown on November 5, expected to last until December 2.

Casinos and betting shops in large parts of Scotland are also soon to close as the government introduces new lockdowns. The new measures will affect eleven council areas in central and Western Scotland, including Glasgow. The restrictions, which will come into force at 6pm today, are expected to be in place until December 11.

According to the BGC, the pandemic has so far resulted in the permanent closure of six casinos in England, with one forced to reduce its workforce by more than 40%. Dugher commented: “Casino businesses had strong balance sheets at the start of the year; the same is no longer the case with costs during closure amounting to up to £15m ($19.9m) per month for some operators.”

Sports betting operator William Hill’s first half performance demonstrates the detrimental impact of betting shop closures in the UK. The operator saw revenue fall 32% year-on-year for the first half of 2020 to £554.4m ($736.9m), something the company attributed in part to the first UK lockdown. In most cases, however, betting shop operators have been able to capitalize on growth in their online gambling businesses.

BGC lockdown criticism

The BGC has been critical of the UK government’s treatment of the region’s gambling industry throughout the pandemic.

may have “signalled the death knell” for the casino industry

In September, the Council called on UK chancellor Rishi Sunak to provide a rescue package to save “thousands of jobs in the sector” after the government announced a 10pm curfew for casinos. In introducing the measure, the BGC warned that Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have “signaled the death knell” for the casino industry, which did up to 70% of its trade after 10pm.

After the announcement of a second lockdown last month, the industry body urged the government to take a “science-led approach” and permit casinos and betting shops to reopen once lockdown restrictions eased. After England’s first lockdown, casinos reopened for over a month past the initial July date. At the time, the BGC described the “belated news” as a “welcome relief” for the industry.