Scottish government comes under fire after re-imposing ban on gaming machines

In an apparent U-turn the Scottish government has told bookmakers that customers will not be able to play gaming machines until further notice.

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has criticised the Scottish government’s decision to order betting shops in Scotland to keep their gambling machines turned off until further notice.

This comes just days after the Scottish government announced it would be lifting a set of restrictions on betting shops which included removing all chairs, turning off gaming machines and no longer showing any live racing on TVs in-store.

The BGC noted that while these restrictions were in place turnover fell by 95% in some Scottish betting shops.

Scotland’s betting shops were allowed to reopen on 29 June following the country’s coronavirus lockdown.

The government’s decision

In a letter to BGC chief executive Michael Dugher, a Scottish government official said: “Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance.

“The precise definition of amusement arcades and the use of gambling machines in different locations is a complex area with overlapping considerations that are difficult to assess.

“The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”

However, last week, following a campaign by the BGC, another government official said the “current restrictions will be lifted on 22 July.”

In the letter, the official stated: “At the time of writing, betting shops are able to reopen partially for the purpose of placing bets only, aimed at avoiding clusters of people gathering to watch live sport, with gambling machines switched off to avoid spread through surface transmission.

“Further to the announcement by the First Minister on 9 July, I can confirm that current restrictions will be lifted on 22 July.”

BGC urges government to rethink the decision

The BGC has now urged the government to reconsider the “baffling decision” highlighting the financial costs that bookmakers have already incurred during the coronavirus pandemic.

Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the BGC, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously.

“Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.

“I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”

No business rate relief for betting shops

The Scottish government has also come under fire for excluding betting shops from a scheme that would give businesses 100% business rate relief for a year to help them cope with the impact and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.

Scotland’s Ministers have also refused to extend the retail, hospitality, and leisure support grant to betting shops, despite offering the grant to other businesses in the gambling sector such as bingo halls and racetracks.

This is very different from the approach taken in England, where betting shops were given business rates relief to help them during the pandemic. However, in England, betting shops were initially excluded from the scheme before it was amended to include betting shops in late-March.

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