In another blow to the UK gambling industry, gambling venues in Wales will now be closed for two weeks after the Welsh government announced a new lockdown.
On Monday, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister of Wales, confirmed that the country would enter a two week ‘time limited firebreak’ which begins on Friday October 23. In all, the measures will last for 17 days, and will replicated the lockdown restrictions introduced in March, with the result that all 366 betting shops in the country will close.
According to the terms of the lockdown, all non-essential retail, leisure and hospitality businesses, including pubs, casinos, betting shops and restaurants, will be closed while all workers will be encouraged to work from home where this is possible. In addition, household mixing will also be banned, and secondary schools will only be open to pupils in Year 7 and Year 8 after half-term.
In its response to the new measures in Wales, industry body the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) repeated its position that the government should provide necessary support for the sector. In a Tweet, the BGC outlined the extent of those businesses hit by the new lockdown:
“Following @MarkDrakeford’s announcement of a 17-day #COVID19 lockdown in Wales, the BGC is urging the Government to come up with the necessary package of financial support for businesses affected, including 366 betting shops and three casinos employing 2,000 people between them.”
In announcing the new measures, Drakeford said that there would be a £300 million economic resilience fund to help businesses during the lockdown period. As a result, every business covered by the small business rate relief will be eligible to receive a £1,000 payment. Beyond this, all small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses could receive £5,000 payments.
But the news is a further blow for an already beleaguered sector. Last week, betting shops and casinos in the Lancashire and Merseyside regions were forced to close their doors when those areas were categorised as Tier 3 of England’s new lockdown system.
While the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has categorised non-essential retail as a low impact factor in the spread of coronavirus, the closure of betting shops and other gambling venues as a result of the new regulations will cause a big impact on the Wales and UK gambling sector, and could have knock-on effects on the racing industry.
In the last week, 100 betting shops in Lancashire and 350 in Merseyside, along with six casinos, have all closed to business. Meanwhile, discussions between the national government and Greater Manchester have hit stalemate after city leaders called for more financial support for those businesses that are forced to close and for workers who will be furloughed.
The BGC had backed calls by the wider leisure and hospitality industry for the UK government to produce a package of measures to help businesses through the remainder of the autumn and the winter. But the government has so far not moved on its decision to provide 67% furlough pay, which leaders in the north have said would not be enough and would decimate the leisure and hospitality sectors. If similar measures are brought in to cover Manchester, as many as 400 betting shops could be closed, potentially putting at risk as much as £54 million in tax revenue and £12.5 million to the racing industry in levy and broadcast rights.