BGC challenges Chancellor on coronavirus relief exclusion

The BGC has slammed the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his decision to exclude the UK gambling industry from the Covid-19 business relief package.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, after the gambling industry was excluded from all forms of business rate relief which were introduced to help ease the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

This news comes after the BGC called for the chancellor to tackle offshore sites and help the retail sector earlier this month. On top of this, several UK gambling companies have predicted losses of more than £100m due to impact of coronavirus.

The relief package

On 18 March, Sunak revealed a series of measures intended to help UK business that may be disproportionately affected the coronavirus pandemic. Under these measures, all leisure, retail and hospitality businesses would be exempt from paying business rates for a 12-month period.

However, the Business Rates Local Authority Guidance, which instructs local authorities on what businesses are eligible for the relief package, excludes casinos and gambling clubs. On top of this, retail betting shops have been classified as financial services rather than leisure businesses making the ineligible for business rate relief.

What did the BGC say?

In its letter, the BGC said: “Any suggestion that casinos are not part of the leisure industry is frankly bizarre when they provide entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year. The government has quite rightly added many other businesses to the official guidance such as nightclubs, but for reasons no one can work out betting shops, casinos and bingo halls have been deliberately left out to dry.

“Why are the many hardworking staff that are employed in our industry, whose jobs are at risk because of the same challenges faced in other leisure companies, not considered by the Treasury worthy of similar support?

“If there is no change in the government‘s approach, within months many casinos will be insolvent and we run the very risk that permanent closures of betting shops will occur.”

The BGC also highlighted that all parts of the gambling industry are suffering losses and that up to 140 casinos and almost 7,000 bookmakers are set to close due to a lack of sporting events and social distancing measures. On top of this, the BGC said that the closure of casinos and betting shops could boost illegal and unlicensed operators.

“We recognise these are unprecedented times and we appreciate the pressures that you and your colleagues in government are under in order to tackle the crisis,” the BGC said. “In responding to the crisis, our members have offered to free up staff time to help, for example where they have medical training, and the use of our premises for catering or any other purpose as required to help those in most need.”

Aside from the business rate relief, the BGC said there were several other measures that the Chancellor could have taken to ease the impact of the pandemic on the sector. Alternative measures included support from the government in covering payroll costs, access to business interruption loans and more time to pay tax and gambling duties.

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