The closure of British casinos due to COVID-19 is costing the Exchequer £5 million/$6.2 million a week, according to an industry trade representative.
The latest call for change comes from the chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), Michael Dugher.
Sending an open letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Dugher reiterated the economic impact that continued closures are having on the economy. He also expressed his disappointment that other parts of the entertainment sector are receiving help while casinos are being left out in the cold.
COVID-19 Easing Full of Inconsistencies
The BGC and the casino operators it represents expected venues to reopen on July 4 alongside pubs, restaurants, and bingo halls. However, despite spending time and money to COVID-proofing their venues, casino operators were told to remain closed.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also declined to ease the lockdown restrictions on gyms in England. Speaking earlier this week, Johnson told members of the media that gyms will “probably” reopen in the next “couple of weeks.” He’s offered no such hope for casino operators.
As it turns out, Johnson over-estimated on that timing as Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, Olivier Dowden, announced earlier today that gyms, swimming pools, and beauty parlors can welcome patrons starting next week.
There’s still no word on when casinos can reopen, however. Dugher has taken issue with the government’s lack of clarity around casino reopenings.
“The Chancellor’s decision to cut VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors from 20% to 5% for the next six months will potentially be an enormous boost for bingo halls and casinos. However, in order to take advantage of this new policy, casinos must be given the green light to reopen as quickly as possible,” Dugher wrote.
The delay in giving casinos the green light is questionable both from an economic perspective and from a social perspective.
As Dugher notes, the casino closures are costing the government £5 million/$6.2 million per week. Moreover, the Treasury is missing out on £5.7 million/$7.1 million in weekly tax revenue from the industry.
Playing Politics with British Casinos?
Inconsistency is something Dugher has also pointed to as an issue. He says casinos are no less safe than pubs, barbershops, or betting shops and bingo halls, provided that the right safety measures are in place.
“Casinos are part of our hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, and they are also a significant attraction for tourists. They can reopen safely and it’s time now to let them do so,” Dugher continued.
The question of what makes some areas of the entertainment industry fit to reopen and not others is also a political talking point in the UK.
Brits can travel abroad from July 10 with relatively few restrictions, they can convene in churches for services and weddings, and they can also visit theme parks and cinemas. However, they can’t visit a casino.
Johnson’s reluctance to reopen casinos could be due to pressure from the shadow cabinet. Although Johnson and the Conservative Party control the government, the Labour Party still has the power to influence policies.
The subject of tighter controls on the gambling sector has been a recurring theme for Labour over the past two years. Some see Johnson’s hesitance to reopen casinos as a result of potential pressure from his political opponents.
A surge in COVID-19 infections stemming from casinos would exacerbate existing tensions regarding the status of the industry. Therefore, Johnson may be playing his hand cautiously to avoid a political rift.
If true, that will come as little comfort to the British casino operators currently losing millions each week lockdown conditions remain in place.