Betting Shops in England and Wales Reopen Doors as COVID-19 Lockdowns Ease

  • Betting shops can now reopen with some restrictions, such as capacity caps and visit time limits
  • It is the first time retail sportsbooks have opened since December, but the UK PM has urged caution 
  • The BGC welcomed the news, noting how the venues can help post-COVID-19 economic recovery
  • Shuttered casinos must wait, with reopening dates set for May 17 in England and April 22 in Wales
Betfred betting shop
Betting shops in England and Wales can open their doors for the first time this year after the easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

A “huge relief” for sports betting businesses

Betting shop operators in England and Wales can breathe a sigh of relief with COVID-19 lockdown restrictions finally easing across the two countries.

Both nations entered the next stage in their roadmaps out of lockdown on Monday, permitting betting shops to reopen their doors with a number of restrictions in place. The new rules limit bettors to two visits per day, with caps on shop capacity and the length of each visit. The facilities must also remove chairs, live sport on screens, and all but two gaming machines.

the first time retail sportsbooks have opened since December 26

It will constitute the first time retail sportsbooks have opened since December 26, when the UK government enforced new restrictions to counter an increase in COVID-19 infections. Pub gardens and outdoor dining facilities also have the green light to resume operations, among other non-essential businesses.

During a Sunday press conference, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the easing of restrictions as a “huge relief” for business owners. However, he urged the public to “continue to behave responsibly.”

The industry’s response

As a representative of the UK gambling industry, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has consistently advocated for the reopening of gambling venues as soon as it is safe to do so. In a statement on Monday, the body described the reopening as “great news” for around 6,000 betting shops that will return to business.

The industry group, with members including Entain, William Hill, and Bet365, took to Twitter to publicize the new COVID-19 compliance guidelines early that morning:

In welcoming the news, BGC CEO Michael Dugher also noted the industry’s important role in the UK economy. According to a recent report, he said UK betting shops contributed £1bn ($1.37bn) in tax last year and currently support around 46,000 jobs.

“This means that as well as providing a much-needed boost for the millions of people who enjoy a flutter, they will also be able to play a key role in the UK’s post-COVID economic recovery,” Dugher commented.

England’s betting shops could experience a quicker recovery than most due to their inclusion in a new £5bn ($6bn) government grant scheme. The BGC welcomed news of the relief last month, with sportsbook businesses possibly eligible for up to £6,000 ($7,225) per venue.

Casinos must wait

The pandemic has proved difficult for the UK’s casinos, forced to close for the vast majority of typically operational days in 2020. Casinos remained shuttered for almost five months in the first period of lockdowns last year, despite betting shops reopening after just three.

This was particularly disastrous for one of the UK’s largest casino brands, Genting UK. The operator permanently closed down three of its casinos and all of its live casino rooms last summer as a result of pandemic losses.

Despite this, the UK Government ignored the BGC’s pleas to permit casinos and betting shops to reopen at the same time this time around. While brick-and-mortar sportsbooks can once again welcome customers as of Monday, casinos in England and Wales must wait a little longer before they can do the same.

English casinos will reopen during Step Three on May 17

Under Prime Minister Johnson’s roadmap set in February, English casinos will reopen during Step Three on May 17, along with adult gaming centers and bingo halls. Meanwhile, the Welsh government has included casinos among its list of entertainment venues, which could open on April 22 as per the nation’s COVID Control Plan.