Betting shops have been given the green light to reopen their doors in tier three areas in England once the current national lockdown restrictions are eased.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the move as he set out details of how England will come out of the national lockdown from 3 December.
The announcement has been welcomed by the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) chief executive Michael Dugher, who reaffirmed his commitment to maintaining the highest possible safety standards.
He said: “This is great news for our customers in communities across large parts of England and for the thousands of people employed in high street betting shops. I know how hard in particular the DCMS battled for their sectors and ministers deserve our sincere thanks.
“On top of the stringent anti-Covid measures betting shops already adhere to, our members have agreed to further restrictions to limit any chance of Covid being transmitted in their premises.
“We now look forward to England coming out of lockdown next week, with betting shops back contributing to the Exchequer and playing their part in helping power the country’s economic recovery.”
Under current measures, betting shops are the only part of non-essential high street retail which must remain closed in tier three areas.
But from 3 December, shops will be permitted to stay open with some restrictions in place, including limits on customers, the removal of chairs and a ban on live sport being shown.
These are in addition to the anti-Covid measures which betting shops had already installed during the first lockdown, which includes hand sanitisers, perspex screens, track and trace systems and strict social distancing.
Bookmakers also welcomed the news that from 3 December, limited crowds will be permitted to attend live sports events. Up to 4,000 people will be allowed to attend outdoor sporting venues in the tier one areas of England. This drops to 2,000 spectators in tier 2, and no fans in tier three.
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden said: “I’m delighted we are able to get the turnstiles turning sooner than expected, taking a cautious approach and starting with the lowest risk areas first.
“I’m confident that sports will take every step to ensure their fans are safe, and fans will play their part and look out for each other until we can safely get everyone back in.”
Dugher backed the move to welcome fans back to the stadiums, noting the ‘devastating’ effect that the spectator ban has had on sports like football and horseracing.
He said: “It’s great that some crowds will be allowed back to watch live sport in tiers one and two. The ban has been devastating for sports like horse racing and football, so this sensible step comes at just the right time.”
But while the reopening of casinos and the return of spectators has been widely welcomed by the betting industry, casinos face further uncertainty after the Prime Minister confirmed that they will remain closed in tier three areas.
Responding to this, Dugher expressed his disappointment: “Casinos are best-in-class amongst the hospitality sector when it comes to anti-Covid measures. There is no evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus. So it remains extremely disappointing that they are still being ordered to close in tier 3 areas.
“We do welcome the decision to extend the hospitality curfew by an hour to 11pm, but we will continue to make the case that casinos are uniquely exposed to any curfew and we will press for their full and safe reopening in all parts of the country.”