Closure of Liverpool bookies 'hugely damaging' to racing and betting industries
The decision to shut hundreds of betting shops across the Liverpool City region from Wednesday has attracted fierce criticism from the racing and betting industries, with the BHA fearing a "hugely damaging" impact on the finances of both sectors.
Prime minister Boris Johnson revealed England's new three-tier system of regional restrictions in the House of Commons on Monday, with the Liverpool City region placed in the 'very high' category, the highest level.
The closure of betting shops is not mandatory under tier three restrictions and both the BHA and Betting and Gaming Council have called for such a move to be avoided if any of the dozens of local authorities in the midlands and north of England move from tier two to tier three as coronavirus cases rise.
Johnson said the government had agreed with the Liverpool City region it would go into the very high category, which includes a baseline of regulations including a ban on households mixing.
As well as betting shops, pubs, bars, gyms, leisure centres and casinos will be closed.
"We don't want to go back to a national lockdown or let the virus rip so we have followed a balanced approach," said Johnson. "We must act to save lives and the evidence shows that by amending our behaviour and restricting our interactions we are saving lives.
"We need to go further. We have worked with local leaders to counter local spikes with targeted restrictions. We're simplifying and standardising our local rules by introducing three alert levels.
"This is not how we want to live our lives but this is the narrow path we must tread between the social and economic trauma of a full lockdown and the human and economic cost of the pandemic.
"The weeks and months ahead will continue to be difficult and will test the mettle of this country. I have no doubt we will succeed."
The government will provide approximately £1 billion of new funding to local authorities across the UK on top of the £3.6bn Towns Fund. The latest wave of restrictions in Liverpool will be reviewed after four weeks.
Michael Dugher, chief executive of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has called on British racing to challenge the "unnecessary" closure of 350 betting shops and six casinos in the region.
In a letter to local MPs, Dugher wrote: "Across Merseyside, 2,300 people are employed in betting shops and casinos. The decision to close them will likely have a huge impact on employment and the survival of these businesses.
"Our members' venues abide by strict Covid-19 guidelines and have been approved by Public Health England. There's no evidence that betting shops or casinos have been the source of any outbreak of the coronavirus or have contributed to a rise in the number of cases.
"Betting shops were safely reopened inJune and were classified as non-essential retail. They are not hospitality businesses, yet they are unfairly singled out from other parts of non-essential retail.
"This will not only impact those businesses but also have a negative impact on the amount of tax they pay and the money that goes to support racing.
"For example, racecourses on Merseyside receive a large portion of their funding from media rights to broadcast racing in betting shops – this will cease the moment shops are closed.
"It is imperative the 350 betting shops and six casinos on Merseyside are kept open. I understand why the City Region are prioritising the economic support package but they can and should argue for these businesses to remain open. They are not looking for a handout.
"They simply wish to stay open safely and contribute to the local economy and the exchequer. We urge you to make the strongest representation to the government against this arbitrary decision."
Political leaders within the Liverpool City region authority confirmed the new restrictions on Monday morning and the BHA issued a statement highlighting the relationship between racing and betting.
A BHA spokesman said: "Betting operators have shown they can safely operate shops without breaching social distancing restrictions so we don't understand the basis for their closure when other retail outlets are unaffected.
"Racing and betting share a unique, interdependent relationship. Any measures taken which result in the potential closure of thousands of betting shops, which generate critical revenues for British racing through the Levy and media rights payments, will have a hugely damaging impact on both industries’ finances.
"This is all the more acute for British racing owing to the continued absence of spectators on British racecourses, and further demonstrates the need for immediate financial support for our industry.
"We strongly encourage the government to make a fully evidence-based decision on any betting shop closures, cognisant of the significant wider impacts on British racing and associated industries."
It is understood professional sport will take place even under the highest tier of restrictions, meaning racing should continue in England, although individuals may be subject to travel restrictions.
Download the knowledge of more than 200 experts with our free mobile app - it lets you study the form, get the latest tips and place a bet on the go. Get the app here