Analysis: Time for BGC’s casino reopening message to be heard

By Iqbal Johal

It’s hard to ignore the Betting and Gaming Council’s (BGC) persistence in urging the UK Government to finally reopen its member’s casinos.

The gambling industry body has tirelessly voiced its disappointment, at the Government decision to omit casinos on the list of hospitality and leisure businesses that could reopen on 4 July in England.

In late June, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced businesses including cinemas, museums, pubs, cafes, hotels and other places of accommodation could reopen with strict health and safety measures, as lockdown restrictions were eased further.

At the time, BGC CEO Michael Dugher called the decision to keep casinos closed “inconsistent and frankly nonsensical,” considering the other parts of the industry that have been allowed to open.

On 15 June, betting shops in England, albeit following strict measures, resumed operations after being shut in mid-March, with bingo halls also reopening their doors on 4 July.

Last week the BGC said ministers need to work with casinos operators to ensure a smooth reopening. It has since reiterated those calls, urging chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak to give the green light for a resumption, just in case the council hadn’t been heard previously. When it came to the Government's holiday rate tax relief, the BGC's calls were heeded early after a policy U-turn; on this occasion, however, progress has been slower.

With Sunak set to unveil further measures on Wednesday to support to economy, in his summer statement, in the country’s attempt to limit the damage of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s at least hope the UK casino sector won’t be forgotten.

Dugher makes several compelling arguments as to why the non-shop, land-based industry should reopen this month. Firstly, there’s the economic contribution casinos make to the economy, contributing £5.7m ($7.1m) each week in tax and duties last year, and more than £300m a year to the treasury.

That’s a significant amount at a time the treasury could do with every million it can get its hands on. Then there’s the continued cost to casino operators who have had to close their premises for nearly four months. Rank Group CEO John O’Reilly recently discussed the fact the operator is burning cash at a rate of £10m per month during the pandemic, also pointing out that putting its Grosvenor casino staff on furlough is costing the Government £1.5m per week.

Many casinos across Europe have reopened, despite Dugher’s claims they are able to meet less stringent measures than in the UK.

In his letter to the chancellor, Dugher spoke about the safety measures already implemented across the 120 casinos up and down the country, with significant investments made to ensure they are met. Last week, the BGC CEO visited London’s Rialto Casino, with measures already in place, such as ensuring sanitisation of seating and table areas, customers being limited to play at one table, face coverings available on request, capacity limits and social distancing markings implemented.

Obviously the fact the continued delay of reopening could have severe damage on the casino industry is the key point, even though they should only open their doors when able to ensure safety measure can be met.

But those requirements have been seen to, in keeping with various other industries in the country, and casinos are ready and waiting to resume operations. You could argue keeping casinos waiting until after other sectors reopened, such as pubs, hotels and restaurants, to assess how those venues would look, was a sensible one.

Now those business have been able to resume safely and aided by a keen customer base, there’s now no reason why casinos can’t follow later this month. Wednesday could shed some light on when casinos can resume; maybe finally the BGC’s voice will be heard.

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