Casinos in the UK will need to wait a bit longer before being able to reopen.
On Friday, the UK government announced that England’s casinos are to remain closed until at least 15 August after the postponing the further easing of lockdown measures during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Casinos in the country have been closed since 20 March and have remained closed while betting shops reopened on 15 June and bingo halls reopened on 4 July.
The government’s decision
In July, the UK government said that it would allow more indoor businesses such as casinos, bowling alleys and cinemas to reopen on 1 August. However, the government has now delayed the planned relaxation of measures and as a result, these businesses will remain closed for at least two more weeks.
The announcement that the easing of restrictions would be delayed came after the government reintroduced several restrictions in northern England due to a rise in coronavirus cases. On 30 July, the government announced that people living in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire can no longer meet with other households inside their homes.
During Friday’s coronavirus briefing event, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to “squeeze the brake pedal” on easing lockdown restrictions across the country.
Johnson said: “We simply cannot take the risk; we will continue to study the data carefully and move forward with our intention to open up as soon as we can.”
Criticism from the BGC
The industry standards body, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) expressed “dismay” at the government’s decision after weeks of lobbying the government to either reopen its casinos or set out a reopening timeline.
In a letter addressed to the UK finance minister, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, BGC chief executive Michael Dugher, said that U-turn was “highly illogical, inconsistent and deeply damaging to those businesses and thousands of staff they employ.”
Dugher said that the government’s strategy for dealing with the pandemic appeared to be “in disarray.”
“We were told that the strategy was to move to regional and local lockdowns, yet the government’s announcement today forces all casinos to remain closed. It is also the case that the new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses.”
In the letter, Dugher took exception to Johnson’s assertion that businesses such as casinos were higher risk environments. Dugher said this was “bizarre and quite wrong.”
The BGC highlighted that casino operators have heavily invested in making their properties Covid-secure, installing perspex screens, sanitisation equipment and implementing track and trace systems.
Dugher added: “This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly five months. Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry.”
Dugher also warned that casino operators that have spent millions on reopening plans and that recalled furloughed staff may now be forced into “significant redundancies,” as a result of the closures.
“The support from HM Treasury, such as the Job Retention Scheme, has really helped but now our members will be forced to pay National Insurance on top of salaries in August while they remain closed,” Dugher continued.
“As furlough payments are phased out, there will be no flexibility for casinos to adapt to the new working and leisure environment when they are eventually allowed to reopen.”
The situation elsewhere in the UK
Outside of England, the devolved nations are each taking a different approach to the reopening of casino venues.
Last week, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set a provisional date of 24 August for the reopening of the country’s’ casinos, bingo halls and arcades.
However, Sturgeon said that the dates are provisional and have not yet been confirmed. This means that this may be changed if the government thinks there are still too many coronavirus cases.
It is not yet clear if Johnson’s announcement will have an impact on the planned reopening of Scotland’s casinos.
The Welsh government has not yet announced casino reopening plans.