The Scottish Government has been urged to think again over plans to make betting shops re-open without any chairs or live racing.
Scotland’s 900 betting shops – employing around 4,500 people – have been closed since March as part of the national effort to combat the spread of Covid-19.
They have finally been given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government to re-open their doors on 29 June.
But ministers in Edinburgh have insisted that they do so “for the purpose of placing bets only”.
That means their TV screens will not be allowed to show live horseracing and all chairs must be removed.
According to Kate Forbes, the Scottish Finance Secretary, this is “to avoid clusters of people gathering to watch live sport”.
In addition, the betting shops have been told that all gaming machines must be switched off to avoid the spread of coronavirus.
By contrast, no such restrictions have been placed on betting shops in England, which have been open since 15 June with stringent anti-Covid measures such as “sneeze screens” and hand sanitisers to protect staff and customers.
John Heaton, chairman of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest independent bookmaker with 30 betting shops employing 100 people, said: “It seems to me that this policy has been devised by someone who has never been in a betting shop. Dozens of customers hanging around watching the TV is a thing of the past. People come in, watch a race a leave again.
“The whole thing is just crazy, and a real slap in the face for an industry which has done its bit for the national effort to tackle Covid-19. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Scottish Government will think again.”
Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “Betting shops make a significant contribution to the economy, employing thousands of people, and they provide a safe play for the millions of Scots who like an occasional flutter.
“Banning betting shops in Scotland from showing live racing and talking away chairs for punters to sit on suggests a complete lack of understanding of how betting shops operate.
“For many of our customers, a trip to the bookies is something to look forward to after three months in lockdown. Yet the Scottish Government would deny them the right to sit and spend a few moments filling in a betting slip or watching a live race with friends, all sitting apart at a safe distance.
“And it’s frankly ludicrous that a punter can watch live coverage of a Scottish horse race in a betting shop in Carlisle, but not a few miles over the border in Gretna. We share the Scottish Government’s determination to keep customers and staff safe. It is perfectly possible to limit numbers of people in a shop at any one time, just like in the rest of high street retail.
“I’ve heard the Scottish Government talk about ‘standing up for Scotland’, but taking away chairs in betting shops takes this to a new level. It’s frankly ridiculous.”