England’s casinos have been dealt a busted flush by the government’s eleventh hour decision to reverse an order to let them reopen for business.
The industry now faces further negative financial impact–and the possibility of thousands of job losses–because of the last minute U-turn, gambling business leaders have warned.
Shuttered since March 23 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, casinos were scheduled to open their doors for business on August 1.
But, following a spike in virus cases in the north of England, the decision to allow them to reopen has now been delayed “by at least a fortnight”.
Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has expressed his “utter dismay” at the decision and slammed the about-turn as “inconsistent” and “nonsensical”.
And thousands of jobs in the casino betting industry are now “at risk”, he warned.
“The government are swinging a wrecking ball right through the middle of our industry and large scale job losses, which ought to be unnecessary and avoidable, now look inevitable unless ministers act fast,” said Dugher.
Posting on his twitter feed, the BGC supremo stormed:
“There is no evidence that casinos are ‘higher risk’ venues + what happened to the Govt’s local lockdown strategy? Why should a casino business remain closed in Bristol in the south west where Covid is low, because there’s a spike in Greater Manchester? Big threat to jobs.”
Casino operators had been working around the clock to prepare for the reopening under “new normal” guidelines – as implemented elsewhere in the world’s casinos, notably Las Vegas and Macau.
Perspex screens, sanitisation equipment, so-called track and trace systems, social distancing measures and hygiene protocols, all were being perfected and set to be applied on casino floors to ensure a safe gaming environment for punters and staff.
Around £6m (US$7.9m) has already been spent preparing for reopening on training, security and food and beverage.
It is estimated that every week of closure costs the casino industry around £5m (US$6.51m).
The sector employs over 14,000 people directly and supports another 4,000 associated UK jobs. In 2019 it paid more than £5.7m (US$7.42m) in tax per week.
Dugher has now written to British Chancellor Rishi Sunak and outlined his concerns about the delay.
His fears were supported by a number of land-based casino operators, among them Genting Casino and the Rank Group.
A spokesperson for Genting said it needs to make “heart breaking decisions” about the future of its business and warned that job losses may now be “simply unavoidable”.
Rank Group, which employs 4,600 people in its Grosvenor Casino business, said it also faces tough decisions in the coming weeks unless the government provides assurances on reopening.
The group urged Chancellor Sunak to consider extending employment furlough support.
Dugher said: “The Job Retention Scheme has helped but our members will now be forced to pay National Insurance and pension contributions on top of salaries in August while they remain closed.
“As furlough payments are phased out, there will be no flexibility for casinos to adapt to the new working and leisure environment and I now fear that many thousands of jobs could be lost.”
Other gambling venues such as betting shops and bingo halls were allowed to reopen for business on June 15 and July 4, respectively.
However, with the reintroduction of stricter lockdown measures in the north of England, the government now say it’s necessary to “squeeze the brake pedal” on opening up other parts of the country too.
The strategy for dealing with Covid-19 appears to be “in disarray”, added Dugher.
“We were told that the strategy was to move to regional and local lockdowns… (And) that new restrictions are supposed to be focused on households not mixing – not on closing businesses.
“This latest fiasco represents a huge blow to the casino industry which will now have remained closed for nearly five months.
“Casinos are a fundamental part of our leisure, hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry.”
In response, the government’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty has argued that the country has “probably reached or neared the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society” in the current Covid-19 climate.