The Government has been accused of behaving in an “ill-informed and arbitrary” way over the decision to order the closure of betting shops and casinos despite a lack of evidence that they contribute to the spread of Covid-19.
Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher has written to Business Secretary Alok Sharma urging his department to intervene to block the “unfair and unnecessary” move putting tens of thousands of jobs in the industry at risk.
Betting shops have been included in the list of businesses having to close in areas placed under Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions – the only part of non-essential high street retail having to do so.
This is despite the venues re-opening on June 15 with stringent anti-Covid measures in place, including perspex screens and track and trace systems.
It means bookies – as well as casinos – in Merseyside and Lancashire have already been forced to close their doors, with those in Tier 2 now worried that they will be ordered to cease trading within days.
The BGC has also written to local leaders in Tier 2 areas urging them to oppose the forced closure of betting shops and casinos due to the lack of evidence that they spread the virus.
In his letter to the Secretary of State, Mr Dugher said: “There are currently just over 6,700 shops employing nearly 40,000 staff across the country, the majority of which are female.
“The singling out of betting shops for closure is unfair, unnecessary and runs counter to the sensible approach the Government had previously adopted. This decision looks ill-informed, arbitrary, and along with plans to close Covid-secure casinos (that had offered to give up selling alcohol) it frankly looks anti-gambling industry.
“It will have a hugely negative impact on our businesses and staff, despite their efforts to ensure a very safe environment for customers that is well beyond any other non-essential retail business.”
Mr Dugher also pointed out that SAGE, the committee of scientific experts advising the Government on its Covid response, has pointed out that high street shops have a “very minimal impact” on the spread of the virus.
He added: “I therefore would like to ask for your support to intervene on behalf of betting shops, an important part of high street retail and an industry that contributes over £3 billion in tax every year.
“I share one hundred per cent the Government’s determination to tackle the spread of Covid. The decision to close betting shops won’t help with that, but it does put in jeopardy an industry that will be much-needed to help power the economy and the Exchequer to recovery.”
The issue has also been the subject of much media interest, including in interviews with Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, on BBC Breakfast and Sky News, with further coverage in the Daily Telegraph.