Gambling sector awaits verdict on Northern restrictions

The UK gambling sector may face another significant blow this week as the government is expected to announce restrictions in the north of England later this evening.

The UK retail and land-based gambling sectors face another major blow this week as UK media outlets speculate that betting shops and casinos across the north of England will be forced to close their doors in order to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The government hopes to avoid a second national lockdown and is set to announce further coronavirus measures later this evening.

The government has yet to make an official statement but it has been widely reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed an agreement for a “simplified” three-tier system of local lockdowns for regions in England. These three tiers will consist of “medium risk”, “high risk” and “very high risk.”

The situation in the North

According to reports from national media outlets, local leaders across the north of England are said to be in negotiations with the government over potential new measures that could include the temporary closure of hospitality and leisure businesses such as casinos, pubs, betting shops and gyms.

This morning, emergency Nightingale hospitals in Manchester, Sunderland and Harrogate were put on standby to receive more patients due to a spike in coronavirus cases in the areas.

During a coronavirus briefing held earlier today, the executive medical director of Manchester University’s Foundation Trust, Dr Jane Eddleston, said that nearly 40% of England’s Covid cases are in north-west England.

According to the latest figures, Greater Manchester has seen a three-fold increase in the number of patients in intensive care in the last five weeks and an eight-fold increase in admissions. 30% of the hospital critical care beds in the region are currently occupied by coronavirus patients.

Over the weekend, media outlets speculated that Liverpool and Greater Manchester will face strict measures and be placed under the highest level of the three-tier system. 

Northern leaders respond

During a press conference with Northern council leaders, including Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson, it became clear that there was still disagreement about financial support for the area if stricter lockdown measures were imposed.

A statement from seven local Merseyside leaders, including Metro mayor Steve Rotheram and Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, said: “We made it clear we do not feel that the Furlough scheme announced recently is adequate and that businesses in the Region especially those in the hospitality sector and those serving it will be damaged and many will suffer long term damage or close for good. Government made it very, very clear they would not shift and improve the scheme.”

BGC responds to media speculation

The UK’s gambling industry standards body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), took to Twitter over the weekend calling for evidence to support the speculated closure of the hospitality sector.

In a series of tweets, the BGC said: “Ministers are about to shut down 400 betting shops and six casinos across Merseyside – which between them employ more than 2,300 people – on the pretext that it will slow the spread of #COVID19.  But there is NO evidence that they do so.

“On his morning media round, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden must explain why casinos (which were deemed Covid-secure by Public Health England) and betting shops (which reopened as retail businesses in June) are being included in the Merseyside shutdown. #COVID19

“At a time when the public finances are under pressure like never before, needlessly telling 2,300 betting shop and casino staff that they can’t go to work is not only illogical from a public health perspective, but also economically self-defeating.

“Casinos are not pseudo-nightclubs where people gather to drink. Indeed, they have offered to stop selling alcohol to further reduce the risk of spread. Their anti-covid measures are also best-in-class. Ordering their closure across Merseyside would be pointless.

“Betting shops, meanwhile, re-opened safely as retail (i.e. not hospitality or leisure) businesses in June. They follow the strictest possible anti-Covid procedures.  Ordering their closure across Merseyside would be pointless.

“It should also be remembered that horseracing benefits from millions of pounds in media payments from betting shops. As the minister responsible for sport, Oliver Dowden must explain why his government is allowing this to be put at risk.”

BGC CEO Michael Dugher also called upon Dowden to provide evidence that shows betting shops pose a higher risk of allowing coronavirus to spread.

Dugher tweeted: “Someone should ask Oliver Dowden what evidence there is that betting shops, as part of high street retail, are higher risk for Covid. Fact is there is no evidence. But there is certainly a risk to @DCMS sector jobs, to the Govt’s tax take + to the funding of racing.”

Calls for financial support

In an open letter to the government, which was sent over the weekend, local leaders called upon to the government to reconsider the current furlough scheme.

At the moment, the current furlough schemes require employees to receive 67% of their pay.

In the letter, leaders stated that their demands were “final and not open for negotiation.”

The letter read: “We have great difficulties with that. Despite many requests, it has taken a long time for the Government to recognise that a proper support package for people and businesses affected by local restrictions would be needed.

“When it finally appeared late yesterday, it was not sufficient to protect our communities through the challenging period which lies ahead. To accept it would be to treat hospitality workers as second-class citizens and we think that is wrong.”

In addition to this, the BGC and several high profile UK Casino operators have publicly said that the HM Treasury must outline plans for an emergency economic package to support affected hospitality and leisure businesses.

In response to Rishi Sunak’s announcement on support for businesses forced to close as part of the Government’s Covid response, a BGC spokesperson said: “The prospect of casinos in England having to close their doors remains one that is entirely avoidable if the Government is willing to be guided by the data, particularly now that they have made it clear they are happy to stop selling alcohol if that is the key criteria for remaining open.

“Casinos want to return as quickly as possible to a situation where they are generating revenues for the Treasury rather than relying on their financial support. But in the event of further closures, they will inevitably be taking advantage of the Chancellor’s latest announcement, which will provide some comfort to thousands of staff who remain fearful for their jobs.

“However, we would again call on ministers to think very carefully in the days ahead about the damaging impact of needlessly including these venues – which were declared Covid-secure by Public Health England – in further lockdowns”

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