Having been closed for the best part of six months, the last thing the UK casino industry needed were further restrictions and a curfew.
But that nightmare scenario has today been confirmed by the Prime Minister, who has revealed that all licensed premises must close their doors by ten ‘o clock at night in order to help reduce the transmission of coronavirus.
This is a hammer blow for land-based casinos in the UK, who make a significant amount of their earnings after this watershed – more than half more, according to Rank Group chief executive John O’Reilly, who told Sky News: “The casino sector in the UK employs 14,000 people, and there’s only 120 casinos in the UK but we employ a lot of people.
“What makes the industry unique is that casinos take more than half of their revenue after ten o’clock, so that’s the big issue.
“We’ve been closed for five months and it was a battle to get back open. We’re already suffering local curfews and this will take the sector down. It will be catastrophic for casinos to have to close their doors at ten ‘o clock at night.”
When Did UK Casinos Reopen?
Casinos in the UK were first closed back on March 20 as part of the first nationwide lockdown, and their doors remained shut until August 15, when they were finally given the green light to return.
That came a fortnight after their original planned reopening date, when a rapid spike in Covid-19 cases forced a number of people-facing sectors, such as casinos and beauty salons, to remain closed a while longer.
The UK’s casinos contribute more than £1 billion in tax revenue each year to the government, and ministers eventually gave casinos the opportunity to reopen when Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer, visited a handful of sites and was satisfied with the safety measures that had been introduced.
What are the Current Rules Within UK Casinos?
Like most indoor venues, casinos in the UK were asked to introduce a number of safety precautions prior to reopening.
Now, all casinos have Perspex screens dividing the gaming tables from one another, while hand sanitisation, additional cleaning and social distancing measures have also been implemented.
To help combat the transmission of the virus, comprehensive track and tracing has been introduced for both punters and staff.
What Do the Government’s New Measures Mean for UK Casinos?
The issue for UK casinos of the government’s measures is, as we know, the fact they make more than 50% of their revenue after Boris Johnson’s new closing time.
The Prime Minister has claimed that transmission of the virus ‘does tend to happen later at night’ when individuals become forgetful about the rules, with a curfew ‘one way of driving down the R number without doing [excessive] economic damage.’
Casinos in the north east of England, which has been experiencing its own localised lockdown since last week, have already noted a downturn in takings having been forced to shut between 22:00 and 05:00 under the new guidelines.
That forced the bosses of the 26 casinos within London, including Caesars, the Grosvenor and the Hippodrome, to join forces to write an open letter to the mayor of the capital, Sadiq Khan, pleading with him not to introduce a similar curfew.
“If London is subjected to a 10pm curfew, most of our casinos will be unviable and some will inevitably close, with the loss of hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in the capital as the furlough scheme nears its end,” read the letter.
The letter also identified the average age of a casino customer as 48, meaning that groups congregating around the bar area is a lot lower than it is in bars, pubs etc.
Can the UK Casino Industry Fight Back from Coronavirus?
One possible solution is that the casinos close their bars after 10pm, allowing their games tables to operate as normal.
That’s a suggestion that the open letter made to Major Khan, helping games houses to continue to make some revenue from blackjack, roulette etc while protecting jobs and the safety of all involved.
“Closing our bars rather than our entire casinos would have a more limited impact on our revenues, would protect jobs, preserve the future of casinos and would retain tax receipts for the Treasury,” the letter read.
And Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, warned of dire consequences if the casino proposals are not agreed to. “If the London Mayor or Government want to close pubs and restaurants at 10pm, we can do that in the casinos too, while continuing to provide a best-in-class Covid-secure environment. This might be a sensible compromise.
“The alternative is the prospect of thousands of job losses – both in London and across the UK – and the permanent closure of some of the capital’s most iconic casinos that can help power our much-needed economic recovery.”