Debbie Husband copy

Debbie Husband

Casinos are standing ready to re-open safely and help boost the post-Covid economic recovery

For those of us proud to work in the land-based casino sector, 2020 was a year that we look back on with little fondness. We played our part in supporting the national effort and my Grosvenor colleagues went over and above the call of duty in supporting vulnerable groups and front-line services with our nationwide provision of daily meals from our casino kitchens – something that we’ve been continuing into 2021. But when it comes to the story of re-opening, re-closing and countless setbacks, 2020 was a year of enormous frustration. Had that frustration been underpinned by any scientific evidence, we’d have sucked it up. But it wasn’t. All the evidence pointed to casinos being safer than vast swathes of businesses and industries which were able to trade.

As we emerged from the November lockdown, however, we took heart from the fact that casinos appeared to finally be being treated equitably with the rest of hospitality, including pubs and restaurants. They were closed in tier 3 but allowed to open (with restrictions in tier 2). It wasn’t great, but at least it was consistent. Much of late summer and autumn had seen us lumped in with children’s soft play areas. It made no sense optically, and even less sense when the science was considered.

As the Government prepares to unveil its timetable and criteria for emerging from the current lockdown, it is absolutely vital that casinos remain hitched to the wider hospitality sector. If the pubs and restaurants catch a break, the very least we expect is to catch the same break.

As the details are being worked through, it’s worth remembering what our customers expect from their casino visit. We worked really hard to get MPs and senior government officials into our venues last year to show them what we are all about. The average customer spends less than a fiver on food and drink each time he or she pays us a visit. Having a drink is a part of the casino experience for some, but it’s not the primary purpose. We spent all of last year offering to close our bars if government believed – as they implied by imposing a curfew – that drinking was an issue in transmitting the virus. We are still offering to close our bars. Whatever it takes to get open and stay open.

Far more critical for us, right now, is the need to confine the ill-fated ‘curfew’ to the dustbin of 2020. Who can forget the images of jam-packed tube stations and heaving High Streets at 11pm when the curfew kicked in? I’m yet to see or hear of any credible evidence which suggested that curfew worked. All I know is that it crippled the casino sector. Over half our revenues are generated after 10pm and the hour before midnight is typically the busiest of any 24-hour trading period. That’s hardly a surprise when you think about the nature of casinos. Individuals come to enjoy what we offer in a safe, well-ventilated, regulated environment. Scrap the curfew and give us a chance of rebuilding our business.

Absolutely nothing matters more to me than to see the back of a virus that has done so much damage to families, but I’ve got a duty to my colleagues and to our customers to fight our corner and to stand up for Covid-secure casinos. I continue to hope that the government will recognise what we’re requesting, what we are offering to do, the tremendous contribution that we make to employment and tax receipts, and to ensure that casinos can safely and securely play our part in the recovery of our towns and cities sooner rather than later.

Debbie Husband is National Director of Operations for UK Grosvenor

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