Bookies urge Scottish government to scrap 'ridiculous' plans for reopened shops
Bookmakers have called on the Scottish government to think again over "ridiculous" plans to make betting shops reopen without live racing next week.
Scotland's 900 betting shops have been closed since March due to the Covid-19 outbreak but have been given the go-ahead to open again on Monday, a fortnight after their counterparts in England.
However, ministers in Edinburgh have insisted that they do so "for the purpose of placing bets only", which means television screens will not be allowed to show live racing and all chairs must be removed.
Bookmakers have also been told that gaming machines must be switched off to avoid the spread of coronavirus, again in contrast to the situation in England.
Scottish finance secretary Kate Forbes said the decision had been made "to avoid clusters of people gathering to watch live sport".
John Heaton, chairman of Scotland's largest independent bookmaker Scotbet, said: "It seems to me that this policy has been devised by someone who has never been in a betting shop. Dozens of customers hanging around watching the TV is a thing of the past. People come in, watch a race and leave again.
"The whole thing is just crazy and a real slap in the face for an industry which has done its bit for the national effort to tackle Covid-19. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Scottish government will think again."
Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher echoed Heaton's view that the policy showed a lack of understanding about how betting shops operate.
He said: "For many of our customers, a trip to the bookies is something to look forward to after three months in lockdown yet the Scottish government would deny them the right to sit and spend a few moments filling in a betting slip or watching a live race with friends, all sitting apart at a safe distance.
"It's frankly ludicrous that a punter can watch live coverage of a Scottish horserace in a betting shop in Carlisle but not a few miles over the border in Gretna.
"We share the Scottish government’s determination to keep customers and staff safe. It is perfectly possible to limit numbers of people in a shop at any one time, just like in the rest of high street retail.
"I've heard the Scottish government talk about 'standing up for Scotland', but taking away chairs in betting shops takes this to a new level. It's frankly ridiculous."
Betting shops have been open in England since June 15 with anti-Covid-19 measures such as sneeze screens and hand sanitisers to protect staff and customers.
Wales followed suit on Monday, while betting shops can reopen in Northern Ireland from July 3.
However, the situation has been more confused in the Republic of Ireland, where betting shops briefly opened earlier this month before closing again. They are set to reopen on Monday.
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