Irish betting shops to reopen in June but business could be 'down 50 per cent'
Betting shops in Ireland are preparing to reopen on June 29 following a crucial meeting between the country's major bookmakers and independent firms on Friday.
But leading independent layer Paul Tully admits the sector will need support from the state due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He forecast that business will be "down 50 per cent" in the period immediately after reopening.
The prospect of a return during phase two of Ireland's lockdown-lifting roadmap on June 8 was explored by a number of independents.
However, following the latest negotiations, which were hosted by the Irish Bookmakers Association (IBA), a decision was made to settle on a phase three slot.
Tully, who owns 16 shops and has a 60-strong workforce currently making use of the Covid-19 unemployment payment after being temporarily laid off, confirmed an agreement has been reached to work towards a June 29 recommencement of business.
"As far as we are reading from the plan, we could possibly open on June 8 as general retail, but I think we are all more comfortable opening on June 29," he said. "We think it's more appropriate and that's what we are planning towards."
Phase two on the roadmap caters for retail outlets with street-level access once the number of people permitted per square metre – which has yet to be established – can be adhered to.
That prompted the independents to explore the June 8 date. But following broader discussions, including with SIS, which provides shops with pictures, the later date was agreed upon.
"There will be a limited number of people per shop, and we have yet to nail down the number of people per square foot and so on," Tully said.
"For the most part, people will be asked to come in and place their bet and leave. If anyone is inside watching a race, there will be a limited number in there depending on what is finalised in relation to the number per square footage."
Many firms have negotiated rent relief with landlords. Once they reopen, and staff are back on the payroll, the challenge of generating sufficient turnover with the restrictions in place will become crystallised.
"I'd say business will be down 50 per cent until people get comfortable with the situation," Tully suggested.
"With pubs not being open, that could also have an impact on some shops, so it could be the middle of August before we know what the impact is going to be.
"Rates being cut will help, but we will need assistance from government with subsidies or grants, same as every other retail business in the country, to get us through the first year of this until we see how things go. Vintners and restaurants are going to be in the same boat."
The reopening of betting shops, of which there are 814 in Ireland, would be a welcome boost for beleaguered racecourses, whose media rights revenue is depleted while they are closed.
Sharon Byrne, chairperson of the IBA, says that protocols are being drawn up with the safety of staff and customers to the fore in the association's planning.
"The top priority for our members is the health of their colleagues and customers," Byrne explained. "Our members are working to ensure robust safety protocols and procedures are in place to adequately protect staff and customers.
"Social distancing will probably be the most challenging issue and all our members will adhere to the detailed guidelines given to them by the IBA and by government.
"We have developed comprehensive procedures to guide our members in preparing their shops for re-opening. We will also have an online training portal for retail staff, which is guided by the government's Return to Work Safely Protocol."
Of the future, Byrne added: "The economic outlook post Covid-19 is uncertain for all businesses including betting shops, which provide over 6,000 jobs and contribute over €85 million in taxes each year."
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