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Casinos and betting shops offer further Covid restrictions

Casinos and betting shops offer to introduce further Covid restrictions so they can re-open in Tier 3 areas after lockdown

Casinos and betting shops have offered to voluntarily introduce fresh Covid restrictions in order to be allowed to re-open in Tier 3 areas after the latest English lockdown.

In a direct plea to Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher said the venues will go even further than they already have to ensure they are Covid-secure.

The unprecedented offer came as it emerged that six casinos have closed their doors for good this year, with one operator forced to cut their workforce by more than 40 per cent.

Both casinos and betting shops have operated safely since re-opening in the summer, with no evidence that they have contributed in any way to the spread of coronavirus.

However, the Government has ruled that those in Tier 3 areas must close. Betting shops are the only part of non-essential high street retail to be treated this way.

In letters to Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Mr Dugher sets out the extra steps casinos and betting shops will take in order to have the punishing restrictions lifted.

The casinos say they are prepared to stop live gaming such as table roulette, blackjack and poker.

The number of people allowed inside the venues would be limited to 25 per cent of capacity, while they would also stop selling alcohol altogether if allowed to stay open after the 10pm curfew, when they normally do up to 70 per cent of their trade.

Meanwhile, betting shops say they will limit the length of time customers can stay in their premises, cap the number allowed in their shops at any one time and close all of their vending and hot drink facilities

Both sectors hope that the enhanced safety measures will persuade the Government to allow them to open in Tier 3 areas once the current lockdown ends.

Between them, casinos and betting shops employ 54,000 people and pay £1.5bn a year to the Exchequer.

In addition, casinos generate £120m a year in tourism spend, while betting shops pay £280m a year to horseracing in media rights and levy payments.

In his letters, Mr Dugher said: “Our members are fully supportive of the Government’s efforts to tackle Covid. That is why betting shops have, in my view, the most stringent anti-Covid measures in place of any other comparable part of the High Street, and why casinos similarly have best-in-class anti-Covid measures compared with any other part of hospitality.

“As you can imagine, they are deeply concerned about the huge negative impact that closure of their businesses is having on their staff, customers, suppliers and indeed sport, whilst having a negligible impact on the R rate.

“But, in order to give further reassurance to you and the public that opening these businesses in Tier 3 is possible, our members have offered to introduce further restrictions on for example customer numbers, facilities and products available.”

The BGC boss added: “The impacts of the pandemic are already being felt by the casino sector.

“There have been substantial reductions in employment with one operator having reduced its workforce by over 40 per cent to date. Casino businesses had strong balance sheets at the start of the year, the same is no longer the case with costs during closure amounting to up to £15 million per month for some operators.”

Calling on the Government to think again, Mr Dugher said: “I would be extremely grateful if you could give serious consideration to these measures which are proactively offered up by our members to provide further reassurance that they are safe to re-open in Tier 3 areas.

“On a personal note, I fully understand the demands that are being made of you in this unprecedented crisis and you have all my support and sympathy. I do hope you and your officials can look kindly at these proposals on behalf of very many businesses and thousands of employees.”

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