The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has expressed its disappointment in the Scottish government’s decision to tell bookmakers to switch off their gaming machines until further notice.
It comes just days after Holyrood confirmed it would be lifting the ban on gaming machines, in-store chairs and live racing in betting shops from 22 July.
In a letter to BGC chief executive Michael Dugher, a Scottish Government official said: “Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance.
“The precise definition of amusement arcades and the use of gambling machines in different locations is a complex area with overlapping considerations that are difficult to assess.
“The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”
Last week, however, another government official stated that ‘current restrictions will be lifted on 22 July’. In a letter, it stated: “At the time of writing, betting shops are able to reopen partially for the purpose of placing bets only, aimed at avoiding clusters of people gathering to watch live sport, with gambling machines switched off to avoid spread through surface transmission.
“Further to the announcement by the First Minister on 9 July, I can confirm that current restrictions will be lifted on 22 July.”
The BGC has subsequently urged the government to reconsider its ‘baffling decision’, emphasising the financial costs that bookmakers have already incurred throughout the pandemic.
Brigid Simmonds, chairman of the BGC, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish Government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously.
“Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish Government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.
“I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”
The Scottish government has previously come under fire for excluding betting shops from a scheme giving firms 100% business rate relief for a year to help them cope with the impact of Covid-19.
The ban on seating, gaming machines and live racing within betting shops has led to a fall in turnover of up to 95% in some Scottish betting shops.
John Heaton, boss of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest independent betting shop chain, concluded: “We’re now incurring all the cost of the in-shop product without the benefit of the machines. It’s the worst of all worlds.
“They seem determined to put as many betting shops out of business as they can, and it’s independent shops like ours that will suffer the most.”