Last Friday, the UK government announced that casinos in England will reopen on 1 August, as coronavirus restrictions were further eased.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has previously expressed its concern and bewilderment at the continued closure of casinos, while pubs, restaurants and bingo halls have been allowed to reopen.
However, casinos in Scotland and Wales are still waiting on news that properties can reopen.
Gambling Insider exclusively caught up with Rank Group CEO John O’Reilly, whose brands include UK’s largest casino operator Grosvenor, to get his reaction and see what the new-look casinos will look like.
What’s your initial reaction to the news casinos in England can reopen from 1 August?
We were delighted to finally receive the green light to reopen our casinos in England from 1 August. We’d been working extremely hard alongside our industry peers and with our trade body, the BGC, to provide government and health officials with the assurances that we were COVID-19 safe and good to go. I’ve been confident of this for many weeks but appreciate that a political process had to be followed. We’ve finally got there and our colleagues are tremendously excited about the prospect of getting back to work and welcoming our customers back.
With casinos having been closed since mid-March, what are the estimated losses for Rank as a result?
With the support of the Treasury, most notably in the form of the CJRS (Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme), we have been able to mitigate our cash burn rate during the period in which our venues have been closed to circa £10m ($12.6m) net outflow per month. The reopening of the majority of our Mecca venues in England, Enracha venues in Spain and our casino in Belgium, have reduced our monthly cash burn rate to £7m a month. With the Grosvenor estate reopening for business on 1 August, we can now look forward to getting back to generating revenues and becoming cash positive as a Group as quickly as possible.
What will the new-look casinos look like, and what are the key measures that will have to be implemented, to ensure health and safety protocols are met?
We’ve invested heavily in safety measures for all our venues. From Perspex screens between all table game seating positions and gaming machines, to ID Scan at our entrances, one-way systems in our clubs and a relentless focus on cleaning and hand sanitising, we believe we have an ultra-safe, and still enjoyable, experience for customers. I was pleased to be able to show senior officials from Public Health England, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Cabinet Office around one of our Central London venues earlier this month and was delighted with the feedback we received. At Grosvenor we believe the safest casinos will be the ones that win and, as we prepare to reopen, our colleagues are keen to embrace the changes we’ve made.
Do you see there being a strong demand and appetite from customers, considering the extended closure time?
We’ve had the benefit of seeing the numbers coming through our Mecca bingo venues and there’s clearly some pent-up demand from loyal customers. We’re hoping that translates into a similarly strong appetite from casino customers. We were making good progress pre-COVID with our customer proposition in Grosvenor and we very much hope that customers welcome what we have done during closure and share our enthusiasm for getting back to doing what we all love doing in our venues.
With casinos nearing the reopening date, how quickly do you expect the business to recover from the impact of the pandemic?
There are many moving parts to this, some of which we can’t control, not least the emergence and availability of a vaccine and, unfortunately, the prospect of local lockdowns if spikes in the virus reoccur. On the basis of what we know today we are hoping to be cash positive again soon after reopening. We had a strong business with a good operating model running into lockdown and we’re doing everything in our control to ensure that our colleagues are ready and willing to rise to the challenge of giving our customers the safest and very best casino experience. If we can do that, we can be very confident for the months ahead.
You previously said the decision to not reopen casinos, when other businesses in the hospitality industry could, was “baffling”. Do you think the 1 August reopening date is later than it should have been?
Ahead of the 4 July reopening of many business, including our Mecca bingo venues, I was confident that our Grosvenor casinos were COVID-safe. However, the Government understandably wished to proceed with caution in reopening leisure and hospitality businesses and casinos fell onto the wrong side of the line for 4 July. The Government had a process to follow, and we were happy to work with them to ensure we could reopen at the earliest possible date. During this time, indeed from the very outset of lockdown, we have had huge support from Nigel Huddleston, Minister for Sport, Tourism and Heritage at DCMS and from his team of officials who have all been keen to get casinos reopen at the earliest possible date. I am delighted we are now reopening from 1 August and am grateful for their support.
Casinos in Wales and Scotland still haven’t been given the go-ahead to reopen. How much of a blow is that, and what do you think the consequences could be on your casinos in those countries?
We fully respect that decisions in Scotland and Wales are devolved and that’s why we are also working with the relevant authorities to secure a date as soon as possible for reopening. The sooner we can reopen, the sooner we can start contributing to the local economies, to Treasury, and the better our chances of protecting jobs.