The Betting and Gaming Council has reacted with dismay after the Welsh Government confirmed that high street betting shops and casinos will not receive business rate relief to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher wrote to Welsh finance minister Rebecca Evans warning her that more than 2,000 jobs in the country were at risk unless they were handed the vital lifeline.
The UK Government announced last month that it was expanding its Business Rates Retail Discount so that it covered betting shops, bingo halls and casinos in England. It means that they will receive 100 per cent business rates relief in recognition of the fact that they have had to close their doors as part of the national effort to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.
But Welsh ministers have decided to exclude them from their own version of the scheme.
Wales has more than 300 betting shops, plus four casinos, employing more than 2,000 people in total. Other parts of the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries have received help, including pubs, restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs.
Across the whole of the UK, the regulated betting industry contributes £3.2bn a year to the Treasury, £350 million to horse racing and between £120 million and £200 million to UK tourism.
In his letter to the minister, Mr Dugher warned that betting shops and casinos in Wales could be forced to close their doors for good without urgent help.
However, the Welsh Government has now confirmed that it will not be amending the eligibility criteria for its scheme.
They also argued that betting shops and casinos were providing “financial services” and were therefore not eligible for the business rate relief.
The UK Government had initially made the same argument, but eventually climbed down under pressure from the BGC.
Commenting on the Welsh Government announcement, Michael Dugher said: “The BGC is the standards body representing the regulated betting and gaming industry across the UK and the 2,000 hardworking, skilled people employed in the industry will be dismayed at this decision.
“This is a hammer-blow to the industry in Wales and it puts jobs at risk at the worst possible time for families.
“The UK Government has acted to defend all jobs hit by covid-19 so why can’t ministers in Wales? Any suggestion that betting shops or casinos are not part of the leisure or entertainment industry is just wrong. For example, casinos provide entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year.
“This sends out a clear message from the Welsh Government that people working in Welsh betting shops and casinos do not deserve the same support as those working in betting shops and casinos across the border in England.
“I hope, even at the eleventh hour, that they will think again. These workers all have bills to pay and families to care for. The least that the Welsh Government should be doing is making sure that their livelihoods are protected at this difficult time.”