Welsh betting shops to close on Friday as part of circuit-breaker lockdown
The UK racing and betting industries suffered a further body blow on Monday when a circuit-breaker lockdown was announced in Wales, forcing the closure of the country's 366 betting shops from 6pm on Friday.
Announcing a "time-limited firebreak", first minister of Wales Mark Drakeford directed everyone in the nation to remain at home, while pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops such as betting shops will shut until November 9, a period of 17 days.
Monday's announcement follows the Tier 3 anti-Covid-19 measures announced in England last week, with nearly 200 betting shops forced to shut in Lancashire and 350 in the Liverpool City region.
While elite sport, including racing, will continue under the new restrictions, owners will not be able to attend the three meetings at Chepstow, Ffos Las and Bangor during the period and the BHA called for "immediate financial support" to aid the sport's "perilous financial situation".
A spokesman said: "Owing to its categorisation as an elite sport, and due to its rigorous government-agreed protocols, horseracing is exempt from the lockdown restrictions in Wales and can continue to operate behind closed doors, though owners will not be permitted to attend the three fixtures which fall under the period of the lockdown.
"While it is good news that racing can continue, the closure of betting shops comes as a further blow to the sport’s already perilous financial situation. Immediate financial support is required and we continue to press this case to government."
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) reacted by calling for targeted support for the gambling industry in Wales, with 2,000 employees in betting shops and casinos set to be directly impacted by the new measures.
Gatherings indoors and outdoors with people not in a single household will be banned in Wales, with Drakeford hoping the 'firebreak' will be a "a short, sharp, shock to turn back the clock, slow down the virus and buy us more time".
Monday's announcement from the Labour-led Welsh government comes after Northern Ireland introduced the strictest rules in the UK with a circuit-break lockdown last Wednesday, although elite sport including racing is again exempt.
Drakeford said: "We all want to see an end to this pandemic and our lives returned to us. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a vaccine, which will allow us to do that. So this is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much-longer – and damaging – national lockdown."
However, the Conservative leader in Wales, Paul Davies, said Drakeford failed to get public support for the limited lockdown, and the measures were disproportionate and set to have a severe impact on businesses in areas with low infections.
"The Welsh government also has to be honest that this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns," he said. "This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year."
Greater Manchester could also be in line for further restrictions, with talks between the government and local leaders, who have so far resisted sterner measures having been unsatisfied with the financial support on offer, resuming on Monday.
With around 430 betting shops in the Greater Manchester area, tighter restrictions would have a further significant impact on the racing and betting industries.
Between them Liverpool, Lancashire and Manchester generate £32.1 million for British racing through the betting levy and the media rights payments that shops pay for the right to show live racing, as part of the more than £200m a year which flows directly from the betting industry to horseracing.
BHA chief executive Nick Rust and his counterpart at the BGC Michael Dugher have already spoken of the potentially disastrous consequences if racing's income stream from the betting industry is "choked off".
In a joint article for the PoliticsHome website published on Saturday, Dugher and Rust said: "If income from betting to racing is also jeopardised by the closure of betting shops, it puts further significant pressure on the emergency business model the industry has been forced to adopt.
"Don't punish betting shops – or casinos – for a rise in Covid cases which they have not contributed to. Instead, let them go about their business safely for the sake of the economy and the future of Great British horseracing."
Further significant restrictions in Ireland also appear to be imminent, with non-essential retail including betting shops likely to be closed as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.
The government appears set to agree to 'Level 4-plus' restrictions for the entire country for a period of three to four weeks.
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