Scottish Government warned hundreds of jobs at risk unless betting shops are given business rates relief
Hundreds of independent betting shop jobs are at risk of being lost unless Scottish bookies are given business rates relief to help them cope with the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic, Nicola Sturgeon has been warned.
Unlike in England, the Scottish Government has excluded betting shops from its business rates relief scheme, which was set up to help firms whose income has slumped as a result of the coronavirus by allowing them to waive the amount they would normally have to pay.
Despite repeated pleas to think again, ministers north of the Border have refused to follow Westminster’s lead in extending the vital lifeline to Scotland’s 900 betting shops, which between them employ around 4,500 people.
In a further blow, Ministers have refused to offer grant support to betting shops. The Scottish Government’s retail, hospitality and leisure support grant has been offered to others in the betting and gaming industry, including amusements, bingo halls, entertainment centres and racetracks, but not betting shops.
Independent betting shops now fear the Scottish Government’s intransigence could force many of them to go out of business completely as they struggle to find the cash to pay the huge bills.
John Heaton, boss of Scotbet – which has 30 shops across Scotland – says the decision will cost his business around £400,000 at a time when takings are already down as a result of the pandemic.
He said: “We feel very frustrated that we haven’t had the financial support independent bookmakers in England and others in the betting and gaming sector here in Scotland have received.
“The sums involved are not material to the large bookmakers but, for us, it is about survival. The likely impact is that the independent sector will die and the big bookmakers carry on regardless, grateful that their independent competitors have been removed for them.”
Scottish betting shops opened their doors again on 29 June, and were initially told they could not have chairs, gaming machines or show live racing to stop crowds congregating indoors.
After a campaign led by the Betting and Gaming Council, those restrictions – which were unique to Scotland – will be lifted from 22 July.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said: “We were delighted when the Scottish Government listened to us lifting the restrictions, which had led to a fall in turnover of up to 95 per cent compared to pre-lockdown in some shops.
“We are now calling on them to apply the business rates relief and grant support that others in our industry have received to betting shops.
“These businesses employ thousands of men and women across Scotland, and they deserve their government’s full support now that they are back at work. If they don’t get it, many will sadly lose their jobs as their shops are forced to close.
“The Scottish Government needs to pull out all the stops to prevent that from happening and ensure betting shops can play their part in getting the economy back on its feet.”