The four nations of the United Kingdom have diverged on a number of issues of late, including the provisions regarding re-opening of non-essential retail businesses. This is causing a major headache for the big gambling companies which have betting shops across the United Kingdom but the general trend remains positive – there is a gradual return to trading for the betting industry which is battered and bruised but still keen to welcome punters back.
In England, betting shop doors were reopened on Monday 15 June. Punters were able to access their local shops albeit with some changes in terms of shop capacity restrictions and enhanced safety provisions. With the resumption of the Premier League on 17 June and the Championship on 20 June, there are plenty of football games to engage punters and the return of horse racing, including Royal Ascot last week, will also provide hope for the gambling industry. That said, some of the gambling companies have cautiously adopted a staged opening process for their chains of shops.
In Scotland, on the other hand, all betting shops have remained closed to date although the Scottish Executive has recently announced plans to allow reopening from 29 June. Bosses of gambling companies must be grinding their teeth with frustration, however, as the restrictions on operation will be far more onerous than those imposed in England. Betting shops will only be permitted to offer a transactional service. Live races cannot be shown on screens, seating must be unavailable for use, and FOBTs cannot be used – all provisions intended to discourage gatherings of customers.
GVC Holdings, owner of the Ladbrokes and Coral brands, has issued a statement in response to the new plans, saying “We are disappointed that we’ve had no clear advice or guidance on re-opening our Scottish shops. This is inconsistent with our English estate which is open for business and operating strict social-distancing measures to protect our colleagues and our customers. We will continue to seek clarification from the Scottish Government on this issue.”
Wales at present has no publicised plans to reopen betting shops and Northern Ireland is in a similar position with the Stormont Executive requiring betting shops to stay closed. The Northern Ireland Turf Guardians’ Association, which represents the majority of betting shops including Toals and McCleans – about 300, with 1,500 staff – says the decision is “forcing an initial 1,000 employees to remain on furlough”. The Association is sorely disappointed as the viability of many betting shops – which in normal times are hubs of sports betting in local towns – is in increasing jeopardy. The Association continues to push for clarity about when betting shops will be allowed to reopen.
“The local industry remains overwhelmingly dominated by traditional over-the-counter betting and the sustainability of the sector is dependent on the opportunity to resume business as soon as possible,” they added.
It remains unclear when and indeed if the gambling industry can return to complete normality, particularly in light of the fragmented approach from the four countries that constitute the United Kingdom. However, like it or not, at least the industry knows the current position and associated requirements. Not so in Ireland where 800 betting shops opened for business on 15 June, in the belief that they had complied with Phase 2 of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s national plan. Sadly, they were mistaken and all 800 had to close their doors again within 24 hours and are still awaiting confirmation from the Irish government on when they may resume trading.