Scottish bookmakers have warned First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that hundreds of jobs could be at risk if the government does not implement a business rates relief to help them cope with the cost of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unlike in England, Holyrood opted to exclude betting shops from its business relief scheme, which was designed to support businesses which had seen a drop in income during the pandemic.
Despite objections, Scottish Ministers have refused to offer grant support to betting shops, which according to John Heaton, Chairman at Scotbet, hits businesses at a time when takings are already down.
Reported on Politics Home, Heaton explained that the decision to not offer business rates relief will cost his business over £400,000. 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.”
The Government’s retail, hospitality and leisure support grant had been offered to a number of betting and gaming industry establishments including amusements, bingo halls, entertainment centres and racetracks, but not betting shops.
After reopening on 29 June, Scottish betting shops had also previously been told that they could not have chairs, gaming machines or show live racing to stop crowds congregating indoors. These restrictions, which were only applicable in Scotland, are expected to be lifted from 22 July following intervention from the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC).
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.”