Betting shops in England may open as early as the eve of Royal Ascot
High street bookmakers have received a major boost with the news that they can potentially reopen betting shops in England in time for Royal Ascot, nearly three weeks earlier than first thought.
Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening that "non-essential retail" outlets will be expected to be able to open from June 15 if the government’s five tests are met and they follow the Covid-19 guidelines around issues such as social distancing.
The government's guidance made reference to the "frequent cleaning of objects and surfaces that are touched regularly", including "betting terminals".
Betting shops have been closed since March 20 due to the Covid-19 outbreak and it had been thought that they would not be able to resume trading until July 4.
The news was welcomed by trade body the Betting and Gaming Council on Tuesday. A spokesperson said: "With racing returning soon, we welcome the fact that betting shops across the country will be able to open their doors again on June 15.
"Our members are working hard to prepare shops for reopening and to ensure a safe environment for customers with social distancing and hygiene measures in place.
"Bookies employ nearly 50,000 hard-working staff, who have all played their part in the national effort to combat the spread of Covid-19, and we now look forward to providing customers with the best possible experience as lockdown eases."
A statement from Ladbrokes Coral's parent company GVC Holdings said: "We are well prepared to open some of our shops in June and will be following the Covid-19 secure guidance."
The relaxation of the rules surrounding shops opening only applies to England as the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have yet to decide whether they are following suit.
In a trading statement this month, William Hill said they were planning for a staged reopening of shops in the second half of the year.
They estimated that each additional month of shop closures would result in reduced earnings of £12 million to £15m, assuming the continuation of government support for furloughed workers, approximately half their initial estimate of £25m to £30m.
The news will also be welcomed by racing's media rights holders in both Britain and Ireland as bookmakers pay them millions of pounds a year for the right to broadcast live pictures from racecourses.
Greg Knight, managing director of Britain's largest independent betting shop chain Jenningsbet, has said his firm pays out £36,000 per shop annually in media rights.
A BHA spokesperson described the reopening of betting shops as representing "a further step back towards normality" and that it was "to be welcomed as the two industries are clearly very closely linked".
They added: "There’s still a long way to go for British racing and even after the sport resumes the fact that we are going to be racing behind closed doors means that financial hardship will be a reality for some time to come, but funding flowing to the sport through retail betting markets as well as online will be a welcome step to help sustain livelihoods within the industry."
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