Progress cannot come a moment too soon for casinos

Guinness seeks to reassure: “Good things come to those who wait”. Kipling seeks to encourage: “If you can wait and not be tired of waiting” and so on...

Being prepared to wait is virtuous, it seems. Certainly, impatience is frowned upon. That’s fair enough, of course, but in the context of the long-awaited White Paper into gambling reform, it appears that the waiting goes on.

The path to publication was marked by plenty of debate, often collaborative and occasionally hostile, but on Thursday 27 April 2023, we finally discovered the public policies that would set the framework for regulated gambling in the UK for the years ahead.

For land-based casinos, it was worth the wait. More of that later. Analysis of its contents began almost immediately and is likely to continue for many more months; in some quarters, the debate picked up precisely where it had left off (often collaborative, occasionally hostile). The one thing that appeared to unite stakeholders from all sides, however, was a realisation that the sheer number and scale of consultations (both DCMS and Gambling Commission-led) to have fallen out of the publication of the White Paper would result in a very busy Summer and Autumn.

A couple of weeks ago, the DCMS-led consultation into land-based reforms was one of the first consultations out of the traps and, since then, the casino industry has been busy working its way through the detail.

The consultations are all necessary, of course, to ensure that the public policies are implemented effectively, and we are ready to play our part in that process; but timing is key and, for casinos, progress cannot come a moment too soon.

The public policies in the White Paper are broadly good news. At Rank, we have publicly stated that we expect the contents of the White Paper to be net positive, overall. The long overdue change to gaming machine numbers and machine:table ratios in the vast majority of UK casinos will materially improve the customer experience and operational viability of scores of venues the length and breadth of the UK.

The scope to provide more widespread electronic payment methods in our casinos, along with a sports betting offering will finally bring UK casinos into line with much of the rest of the world. The door is ajar in terms of ensuring our electronic terminals can offer more content which would make our clubs far more contemporary. For many years, the industry has waited for these modest, but mission-critical modernisations. Finally, we have very nearly got them over the line.

But, as we look to protect jobs, generate tax receipts and better meet the needs and expectations of today’s customers we don’t have time on our side.

When the last Gambling Act (2005) was unveiled, there were 160 casinos in the UK. That number has fallen to 119. Even this year, casinos have continued to close. We operate 51 Grosvenor venues throughout England, Scotland and Wales but approximately a quarter of these are currently loss-making. It has been well-documented how the casino industry has been slow to recover from the economic ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis, alongside inconsistent numbers of overseas travellers coming into London, have combined to hit leisure and entertainment venues like ours harder than most. We are chomping at the bit to secure the modernisations that will help us to address these challenges.

At the same time, we recognise the need for improvements to the player protection landscape and its funding mechanism. The White Paper proposes a statutory levy and the introduction of an Ombudsman, by way of two examples. Land-based casinos will be expected to contribute a proportion of the costs and we acknowledge that. However, the sequencing of these additional cost burdens must be seen within the context of the modernisations that are also coming our way. If casinos are hit with extra costs before they are able to benefit from the upside of the modernising proposals, it will lead to more venues going to the wall. That is in nobody’s interests as customers would be displaced, RET contributions would be reduced, jobs would be lost and one of the key tenets of the White Paper, namely the need to ensure “that there is an equitable approach to the regulation of the online and the land based industries”, would be instantly undermined.

We are far from impatient, but after so many years of waiting for modernising reforms to land-based casinos, we are hopeful that the Government will keep its foot to the floor over the coming months to ensure that our venues are able to benefit as soon as possible from the public policies that will do much to sustain jobs, stimulate growth and investment, and shape a brighter future for the UK land-based casino sector.

David Williams - Director of Public Affairs at the Rank Group

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