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Betting and Gaming Council blasts 'unnecessary' closure of betting shops

Boris Johnson: expected to announce new measures on Monday
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The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has called on British racing to challenge the "totally unnecessary" closure of 350 betting shops and casinos across Merseyside due to regional Covid-19 restrictions.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to reveal England's new three-tier system of localised measures on Monday, with areas in the north expected to be placed under the highest level of lockdown. He will make an announcement in the House of Commons at 3.30pm.

A number of restrictions in Liverpool, including the closure of betting shops, were confirmed by the city's leaders on Monday morning.

On the consequences of the decision for racing, BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said: "It's not just bad news for thousands of staff and the exchequer but for racing, which is reliant on funding from us at a time when its finances are in a perilous state.

"Racing has understandably spent weeks highlighting the need for more funding but the closure of betting shops represents a clear and present danger. We need racing to step up to the plate."

In a letter to local MPs, Dugher wrote: "Across Merseyside, 2,300 people are employed in betting shops and casinos. The decision to close these businesses 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 last June 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.

The Grand National at Aintree was cancelled in April due to the coronavirus pandemic

"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."

Responding to the news, a BHA spokesman said: "We are concerned by media reports that betting shops – which have been safely operating under strict Covid-secure protocols since their reopening in June – are being considered for closure in areas which go in the highest tier of the government’s three-tier lockdown system.

"Betting operators have demonstrated 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 awing 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."

Betting shops have been operating under strict new guidelines

Political leaders within the Liverpool City Region authority confirmed several new Covid-19 restrictions in a joint-statement on Monday. It has been in discussions with the government over financial support.

"We made it clear that while our priority is the health and wellbeing of our residents, the wellbeing of our economy is also a priority. We made it clear we do not feel the furlough scheme announced recently is adequate and that businesses in the region, especially those in the hospitality sector and those serving it will be damaged and many will suffer long term damage or close for good," the statement read.

"The government was clear it would not improve the scheme. We also challenged the government on further issues, including enforcement and funding for the city and local authorities to deal with the funding crisis and manage our budgets this year and next.

"The government has decided the following further measures and closures will apply to the region. Pubs and bars; betting shops, casinos and adult gaming centres and gyms will close. It feels these measures will help stop the spread of Covid-19, reduce the levels of infection and relieve pressure on our hospitals and the NHS."

It is understood professional sport will continue even under the highest tier of restrictions, meaning racing should continue in England, although individuals may be subject to travel restrictions.

However, any prolonged or widespread closure of betting shops would be alarming for the sport, which has been suffering a funding crisis since racing resumed behind closed doors in June.

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It should also be remembered that racing benefits from millions of pounds in media payments from betting shops
E.W. Terms