Nick Rust, CEO of the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), has called for the government to reopen betting shops once the current lockdown restrictions are eased, stating that there is ‘no evidence’ that betting shops have contributed to the spread of the virus.
From 2 December, England is expected to return to a tiered system of coronavirus restrictions. However, bookmakers have expressed concerns that their shops could remain closed in areas under Tier Three measures.
Speaking on Luck on Sunday, Rust reaffirmed that the racing sector has been working alongside the government to find the most viable way to ensure that betting shops can reopen safely.
He said: “Cabinet has been meeting to discuss what is going to happen, so we’re waiting on the news to see what happens. We’ve made clear to the government as best we can that we don’t see the case for betting shops being treated differently from other so called ‘non-essential retail’ and we hope they take that into account when making their decisions.
“There is no evidence we have seen through the work done with the BGC through the test and trace system that betting shops have been a contributor to the spread of the virus.”
As the sector faces uncertainty over whether shops will be allowed to reopen, Michael Dugher, CEO of the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), made a ‘direct plea’ to Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Matt Hancock, stating that venues ‘will go even further’ to ensure that they are COVID secure.
Among the measures suggested by BGC members, betting shops have stated that they will limit the length of time customers can stay in their premises, cap the number allowed in their shops at any one time as well as close all of their vending and hot drink facilities
Meanwhile casinos will stop live gaming such as table roulette, blackjack and poker. In addition, venues will be limited to 25% capacity while they would also stop selling alcohol altogether if allowed to stay open after the 10pm curfew, when they normally do up to 70% of their trade.
Betting shops and casinos in England were forced to close for four weeks in the government’s plan to curb a spike in COVID-19 cases. However, the month-long lockdown is expected to cost the racing industry more than £12.5 million in lost levy rights and media rights payments due to the closure of England’s 5681 betting shops.
Leaders from across the racing industry are said to be hopeful about the prospect of fans returning to live events in the new year.
Rust continued: “We have been working closely with the government to make sure we’re at the forefront of any pilots with regards to spectators returning.
“It’s a difficult message to come out and say we’re returning to pilots for sport if we’re telling people they can only have one day at Christmas with one other household.
“DCMS is working hard to make sure these pilots are on and we’re pretty confident we’ll have some pilots certainly in the period immediately after Christmas and leading up to the spring period.”
Aside from two pilot events during the summer, racing has taken place behind closed doors since the mid-March.
Racing received £40 million in support from the government after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) pledged a total of £300 million to safeguard professional sports’ immediate future, as confirmed in its ‘Sport Winter Survival Package’.
In the government’s Sport Winter Survival Package, UK racing received funds which were much-needed reserved for ‘racecourse management’.
Rust added: “We don’t know the details yet, we’re expecting some tomorrow, but we’ve been told that they’ll be on extremely favourable terms.
“We’re hoping and expecting based on what has been announced for Rugby League that the loans will be for probably a period of up to five years for repayment, hopefully with no repayment required in the first year, and with low interest rates.
“The government has listened to us, once again racing has worked closely together with a single voice into government and we need this assistance to help get us through. If we don’t take that up across the sport, if I was in government I’d be wondering why.
“The government is making this money available to us. We have asked for financial support. If we cannot deploy that financial support appropriately across the sport we’re going to be in difficulty aren’t we? There’s no danger of us failing to come up with a plan for this money.”