English betting shops have been closed since January 5, but there is hope on the horizon for the high street businesses.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week unveiled his “roadmap to reopen the country.” The four-stage plan, he says, is “cautious but irreversible,” and is a “one-way road to freedom.”
Freedom for betting shops in England comes in the second phase, which is slated to begin on April 12. Betting shops have been grouped into the reopenings of non-essential retail businesses.
The April 12 date is the earliest possible resumption date. If the first stage, which is to begin on March 8, is delayed or lengthened, the April 12 date will subsequently be pushed back. Casinos in England are scheduled to reopen in stage three, which is to start May 17.
Proceeding to each step will be based on “data, not dates,” Johnson explained. But he adds that there’s “no credible route to a zero-COVID Britain, nor indeed a zero-COVID world.”
Johnson’s reopening plan is specific to England. But he confirmed that he’s working with the relevant authorities in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland on their lifting of COVID-19 restrictions.
There are approximately 6,700 betting shops in the UK, which employ some 32,600 workers.
Gaming Industry Damaged
COVID-19 was the second of a one-two punch to England’s massive sports betting industry. The first came in 2018, when the UK government reduced the maximum wager on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBT) from £100 ($141) to just £2 ($2.82).
FOBTs are commonly found in high street betting shops throughout the UK. The slash to maximum wagers resulted in hundreds of locations closing, and tens of thousands of jobs eradicated.
With the wagering houses forced to shutter at various times throughout 2020, William Hill, one of the largest UK bookmakers, announced last August the permanent closures of an additional 119 locations.
“We anticipate that longer-term retail footfall will not return to pre-COVID levels,” the company explained of its decision.
Downing Street deemed betting shops “high risk” COVID-19 sites last fall. Government officials reasoned that the small enclosed spaces where customers linger for significant periods of time are ripe environments for coronavirus spread.
Industry Wins Over Johnson
The UK Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has disagreed that betting shops and casinos are high-risk places. Last week, the advocacy called on the government to bunch betting shops with other indoor retail businesses in the reopening guidance.
Betting shops must be allowed to reopen alongside other non-essential retail,” BGC CEO Michael Dugher said. “Last summer, when most betting shops were able to open, they showed that they have best-in-class anti-COVID measures compared to any other part of the high street to protect customers and staff.”
Johnson adhered those calls in structuring his reopening plan.
The BGC is now advocating that the Grand National horse race, held annually at Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, be pushed back a week from its schedule April 10 event.
“Ensuring that the once-a-year punters are able to pop in to their local bookies to have a flutter, supporting their local high street on the world’s most famous horse race, would help make the Grand National a truly national celebration as we begin to reopen the economy,” said Dugher.
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