In England, casinos and betting shops are preparing for the ending of COVID-19 restrictions on Monday as the country enters step four of its lockdown reopening plan. [Image: Shutterstock.com]
On the path towards freedom
After what has been a tumultuous period for England’s gambling industry, there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel in regard to COVID-19 restrictions.
As per new rules announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in early July, almost all limits in England will end on Monday, July 19 as the country enters the final stage in its roadmap out of lockdown. This will allow England’s casinos and betting shops to end all restrictions for the first time since the pandemic began in March last year.
PM Johnson took to Twitter earlier this month to publicize the news of restrictions lifting:
In contrast, other areas of the UK will maintain some restrictions for the time being. Wales and Northern Ireland will review their own limits on July 8 and July 15, respectively. Meanwhile, Scotland will keep its rules in place until at least August 9, as per the directive of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.
In a controversial move, Sturgeon has also announced that all of Scotland’s hospitality venues – including casinos – must close their doors at midnight starting July 19. The curfew has received criticism from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), with its CEO labeling the measure “bizarre.”
England ahead of the rest
Unlike its neighbors to the north and west, England is pressing on with the removal of almost all restrictions on Monday. This includes an end to social distancing measures, mandatory mask-wearing policies, and any capacity limitations for casinos and betting shops across the country.
nearly six million racegoing fans each year”
The removal of COVID restrictions is also good news for horseracing venues in the country. The rules permit racetracks to host full capacity crowds for the first time since the pandemic outbreak, prompting the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to welcome the easing of restrictions. In a statement earlier this month, BHA Chair Annamarie Phelps described the new freedoms as a “huge boost” to an industry which relies on “nearly six million racegoing fans each year.”
Similarly, the BGC has praised the ending of restrictions in casinos and betting shops as “a much-needed boost to the economy.” On Twitter this month, the gaming industry body posted a video in which its chairman, Brigid Simmonds, visited Blackpool’s Grosvenor Casino as it prepared for the July 19 restriction removal:
In its statement welcoming the decision earlier this month, the BGC noted that casinos directly employ 11,600 people in the UK, and contributed £500m ($693.3m) per year in tax before the pandemic. “The Prime Minister’s announcement is very welcome, and casinos look forward to playing their part in the UK’s post-pandemic economic revival,” BGC CEO Michael Dugher commented.
The executive also urged the government to consider easing restrictions on travel to help support the country’s land-based gambling industry, which relies heavily on tourism.
Scotland puts the brakes on
While England eagerly awaits almost complete freedom from restrictions, Scotland is taking a more tentative approach. First Minister Nicola Strurgeon has announced that the nation will enter level 0 of its lockdown reopening plan on Monday. However, her new directive will require casinos to adhere to a midnight curfew.
The BGC has criticized the “11th hour decision,” taking to Twitter on Wednesday to express its “dismay” at the measure:
Commenting about the Scottish measure, Dugher said the midnight curfew will prove disastrous for casinos which rely heavily on late-night trade. “Given that casinos do most of their business after 10pm, forcing them to close at midnight is economically self-harming and shows a complete misunderstanding of the casino industry,” he argued.
a complete misunderstanding of the casino industry”
The body noted that the Scottish casino industry currently employs around 700 people and provides around £30m ($41.6m) per year in tax to the Treasury.