With England’s national restrictions set to end on December 2, there was plenty of interest to see how Boris Johnson and his cabinet would re-open the country.
His decision to allow a limited number of spectators to attend indoor and outdoor sporting events has been applauded, as has the announcement that betting shops will open in all tiered zones, but there is still a radio silence as far as the re-opening of casinos is concerned.
It is noticeable that leisure facilities will open in tier one and two zones, and the belief is that casinos outside of the highest risk areas may also be allowed to re-open – despite their categorisation as a ‘hospitality’ business.
But the closure of casinos in tier three areas will almost certainly lead to job losses and possible closures, and Nick Dugher of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has pleaded with the government to reconsider. “Casinos are best-in-class amongst the hospitality sector when it comes to anti-Covid measures; there is no evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus,” he remarked.
“We do welcome the decision to extend the hospitality curfew by an hour to 11pm, but we will continue to make the case that casinos are uniquely exposed to any curfew and we will press for their full and safe reopening in all parts of the country.”
Voluntary Restrictions Offered
The announcements from 10 Downing Street come just a matter of days after the casino sector pledged to voluntarily introduce even more stringent measures to prevent properties in tier three zones from closing.
Dugher had written to government ministers Matt Hancock and Michael Gove on behalf of BGC members, clarifying a range of new measures that could be introduced if required. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that casinos that have opened have contributed to spikes in Covid-19 in any way.
Options include the stoppage of live table games, including roulette, blackjack and poker, in order to minimise the risk of individuals and groups congregating in one place.
Capacity would be reduced to 25% to enable greater distancing, and some casinos brands have pledged to stop selling alcohol altogether if they were allowed to stay open past the new 11pm curfew.
Dugher’s letter reads: “Our members are fully supportive of the Government’s efforts to tackle Covid. That is why betting shops have, in my view, the most stringent anti-Covid measures in place of any other comparable part of the High Street, and why casinos similarly have best-in-class anti-Covid measures compared with any other part of hospitality.
“As you can imagine, they are deeply concerned about the huge negative impact that closure of their businesses is having on their staff, customers and suppliers, whilst having a negligible impact on the R rate.
“But, in order to give further reassurance to you and the public that opening these businesses in Tier 3 is possible, our members have offered to introduce further restrictions on for example customer numbers, facilities and products available.”
So far six casinos have closed permanently since the outbreak of the pandemic, while another major operator has left almost half of its staff go.