Betting awaits critical verdict on Northern restrictions

Betting faces yet another major blow this week after growing media speculation has suggested that betting shops and casinos will be forced to close their doors across the north of England.

UK businesses await another tense week of Downing Street verdicts, with regards as to how the government will handle further covid restrictions seeking to avoid a further national lockdown.  

Local leaders from across the north are said to be locked in negotiations with the government over the potential new measures which could include a temporary closure of pubs, gyms, casinos, betting shops and other hospitality and leisure facilities.

While the government is yet to make an official statement, it has been reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed off an agreement for a ‘simplified’, three tier system of local lockdowns for regions in England this week which will include ‘medium risk’, ‘high risk’ and ‘very high risk’.

Liverpool appears to have been the main area of focus this weekend, with Greater Manchester also expected to face similar measures. However, during a press conference with Northern council leaders including Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson, it was apparent that there was still severe disagreement about a financial support package for the area should harsher lockdown measures be imposed.

A statement from seven local Merseyside leaders, including Metro mayor Steve Rotheram and Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson, said: “We made it clear we do not feel that the Furlough scheme announced recently is adequate and that businesses in the Region especially those in the hospitality sector and those serving it will be damaged and many will suffer long term damage or close for good.

“Government made it very, very clear they would not shift and improve the scheme.”

Responding to the media speculation, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) took to Twitter this weekend, calling for evidence to support the impending closure of the hospitality sector. 

In a series of tweets, the trade body wrote: “Ministers are about to shut down 400 betting shops and six casinos across Merseyside – which between them employ more than 2,300 people – on the pretext that it will slow the spread of #COVID19.  But there is NO evidence that they do so.

“On his morning media round, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden must explain why casinos (which were deemed Covid-secure by Public Health England) and betting shops (which reopened as retail businesses in June) are being included in the Merseyside shutdown. #COVID19

“At a time when the public finances are under pressure like never before, needlessly telling 2,300 betting shop and casino staff that they can’t go to work is not only illogical from a public health perspective, but also economically self-defeating.

“Casinos are not pseudo-nightclubs where people gather to drink. Indeed, they have offered to stop selling alcohol to further reduce the risk of spread. Their anti-covid measures are also best-in-class. Ordering their closure across Merseyside would be pointless.

“Betting shops, meanwhile, re-opened safely as retail (i.e. not hospitality or leisure) businesses in June. They follow the strictest possible anti-Covid procedures.  Ordering their closure across Merseyside would be pointless.

“It should also be remembered that horseracing benefits from millions of pounds in media payments from betting shops. As the minister responsible for sport, Oliver Dowden must explain why his government is allowing this to be put at risk.”

In an open letter to the government, local leaders from across the region urged Downing Street to reconsider the current furlough scheme – which sees employees receive 67% of their pay – stating that their demands were ‘final and not open for negotiation’.

“We have great difficulties with that,” the leaders said. “Despite many requests, it has taken a long time for the Government to recognise that a proper support package for people and businesses affected by local restrictions would be needed.

“When it finally appeared late yesterday, it was not sufficient to protect our communities through the challenging period which lies ahead. To accept it would be to treat hospitality workers as second-class citizens and we think that is wrong.”

The BGC and UK casino operators have publicly stated that the HM Treasury must outline plans for an emergency ‘economic rescue package’ for all affected businesses working within the hospitality and leisure industries.  

Writing on Twitter, BGC CEO Michael Dugher called upon Dowden to supply evidence which demonstrates that betting shops pose a higher risk in terms of allowing COVID to spread.

He said: “Someone should ask Oliver Dowden what evidence there is that betting shops, as part of high street retail, are higher risk for Covid. Fact is there is no evidence. But there is certainly a risk to @DCMS sector jobs, to the Govt’s tax take + to the funding of racing.”

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