Moments before I sat down to write this blog, I received the pretty depressing news that casinos are set to remain closed for the foreseeable future. With the best will in the world, I wish I wasn’t writing it! I’d much rather be preparing for reopening, like so many other sectors of the leisure and entertainment industry here in Birmingham.
I’m the General Manager of our Grosvenor Broad Street casino in Birmingham and have worked here for the past six years. I’ve seen a lot of change in that time, but the past few months have been the most challenging of the lot. On top of that, the past few days and weeks have been among the most perplexing as I’ve watched other venues reopen their doors.
Back in March, I put 73 of my colleagues into furlough as we closed our doors and played our part in the national effort to tackle the coronavirus. In the days that followed, I was eager to lead the local response to supporting frontline NHS staff, emergency services and other vulnerable groups by providing and delivering hot meals through Rank’s arrangement with the Blue Light Card scheme.
My casino is very much part of the local community; lockdown didn’t change that – it simply gave us a new way of showcasing our community values.
Attention soon shifted to preparing for reopening, and in the past couple of months I’ve been overseeing significant changes to my casino. We know that customers will rightly expect to feel safe when they return, and we’ve completed the widespread provision of social distancing measures and signage, and the installation of Perspex dividers on gaming tables, slots and electronic roulette terminals. Hand sanitisers have been delivered and protective equipment is in place for customers and colleagues. We’ve got new Covid-secure measures in place for the handling and cleaning of gaming chips and cards, and the ID requirements we now have will ensure we are fully compliant for the government’s Track & Trace programme.
I’ve taken the opportunity to look around what else is happening here in Birmingham and am delighted that we appear to have gone the extra distance to ensure that customers will receive the safest possible welcome and experience when we’re finally allowed to unlock our doors. I’m adding my voice to thousands of others by asking government to allow us to reopen our casinos as soon as they possibly can.
I’m also acutely aware that our customers are eager to return. In recent days I’ve been fielding more and more calls from many of our regulars who also can’t understand why casinos haven’t been allowed to reopen. I am confident that they will like what they find when we are given the green light.
Meanwhile, my colleagues remain in furlough. I’ve only been able to bring two colleagues back to work, part-time, and although we are all keeping in touch and respecting the process that will lead to reopening, we are missing one another.
We love working here on Broad Street and we’re straining at the leash to get back to giving our customers a safe and enjoyable experience. I can’t escape the fact that by virtue of remaining closed, we’re delivering no tax receipts to the Government. We’re reliant on the furlough scheme and we’re not really contributing to the vibrancy of the local entertainment scene in this part of the city. That’s what we’re about and it is what we miss most.
I know I’m not alone in feeling a bit frustrated, and I know that nothing is more important than the safety of our colleagues and customers. But the longer we remain closed, the more anxious I become. I gather the visit, a few days ago, to our Rialto casino in Central London from various government officials went well, so I’ve got my fingers crossed that we receive some good news really soon.
Matt Rudd is the general manager of the Grosvenor Casino in Broad Street, Birmingham.