In light of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s package of new measures to support UK businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since been confirmed that betting shops and casinos will not qualify for relief in business rates.
Backed by PM Boris Johnson, Sunak announced that the Treasury department had reserved £330 billion in business loans (equivalent to 15% of GDP) to help the UK economy overcome COVID-19 disruptions.
Sunak specified that businesses listed under the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors would be able to make insurance claims against their policies, while also remaining exempt from business rates for 12 months.
However, it has since been confirmed that both betting shops and casinos would not be eligible for business rates relief.
In response, Betting and Gaming Council chief executive Michael Dugher and Chairman Brigid Simmonds OBE released an open letter to the government requesting a rethink on the ‘hugely damaging decision on business rates’.
The letter said: “In light of the unprecedented economic emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic, that represents a genuine threat to the survival of many of our businesses, we were extremely encouraged when you told the House of Commons (17 March) you will “do whatever it takes to support our economy through this crisis”. You said: “I am extending this business rates holiday to all businesses in those sectors, irrespective of their rateable value. That means that every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue and restaurant, and any other business in the retail, hospitality or leisure sector, will pay no business rates whatsoever for 12 months”.
“Further, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, in a written answer to a parliamentary question (19 March), stated that the Government would be “giving all retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in England a 100 per cent business rates holiday for the next 12 months”.
“However, in marked contrast to these statements to Parliament, the Treasury took the decision to exclude our member companies from any form of business rate relief.
“The Business Rates Local Authority Guidance (published 18 March) specifically excludes ‘casinos and gambling clubs’, which presumably includes bingo halls, as well as classifying high street betting shops, in antiquated terms, as being part of ‘financial services’ – despite our members’ clear listing on the London Stock Exchange as part of the leisure industry. Any suggestion that casinos are not part of the leisure industry is frankly bizarre when they provide entertainment, food and drink to millions of people every year.
“The Government has quite rightly added many other businesses to the official guidance such as nightclubs, but for reasons no one can work out betting shops, casinos and bingo halls have been deliberately left out to dry. Why are the many hardworking staff that are employed in our industry, whose jobs are at risk because of the same challenges faced in other leisure companies, not considered by the Treasury worthy of similar support?
“We strongly believe that there is cross-party support for you to reconsider this decision and make government support on business rates available to betting shops, casinos and bingo halls. To be absolutely clear: all casinos and betting shops are currently loss-making with most casinos – up to 140 – due to close this weekend and nearly 7,000 high street betting shops expected to close imminently due to the lack of sport and Government guidelines on the need for social distancing.
“If there is no change in the Government‘s approach, within months many casinos will be insolvent and we run the very risk that permanent closures of betting shops will occur. Together these retail businesses support the majority of employment in our industry – around 64,000 jobs. Without the ability to generate revenue from football and horseracing, which account for 75 per cent of the UK licenced sports betting market, these employment costs are unsustainable.
“Of course, in addition to business rates, there are a range of additional short-term measures that could also be introduced to help our members stand any chance of survival. These include: immediate support on employment costs similar to those enacted in Spain and Denmark where a portion of payroll is covered by the government; access to Business Interruption loans or guarantees; and automatic application of time to pay on all taxes and gaming duties.
“We recognise these are unprecedented times and we appreciate the pressures that you and your colleagues in government are under in order to tackle the crisis. In responding to the crisis, our members have offered to free up staff time to help, for example where they have medical training, and the use of our premises for catering or any other purpose as required to help those in most need. We are also increasing safer gambling messaging.
“Without the kind of help that the Government is rightly prepared to offer other sectors, including in other parts of the hospitality, leisure and entertainment industries, there is a real danger that the physical presence of our industry on the high street, in our towns and cities, will be largely wiped out.
“Not only is this a sector which provides a leisure activity enjoyed by millions of people up and down the country, but its closure could lead to a migration of gambling to the black market, which is not only unregulated and an unsafe place for people to bet, but it also contributes nothing to the Exchequer or the country. We would therefore be grateful if you could rethink this hugely damaging decision on business rates.”
Dugher’s sentiment was supported by MPs Laurence Robertson and Conor McGinn, the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Racing and Bloodstock Group, who requested that the government provides financial support to both the racing and betting sectors.
In a joint statement, they said: “These are unprecedented times that require the whole nation and government to work together to tackle the coronavirus public health emergency. In dealing with the economic crisis that accompanies it, much has rightly been made of the urgent need for government to support the leisure, hospitality, entertainment and retail sectors, and protect jobs.
“We are clear that the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people who rely on the horseracing and betting industries must be a key part of that; from racecourses such as Cheltenham and Haydock in our constituencies, to training yards as well as the bookie on the high street.
“We will be fully behind racing in the challenging and uncertain times ahead. We now call on the government to play its role in securing the future and sustainability of our great sport, and supporting the industry which makes such a significant financial and social contribution to its success.”