Betting shops are hoping to reopen their doors in mid-April after Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his ‘roadmap’ for the UK’s COVID recovery, with adult gaming centres, bingo halls and casinos scheduled to follow on 17 May.
In a press conference last night, Johnson outlined his ‘cautious but irreversible’ four-stage COVID recovery plan where he set out provisional dates for restrictions to be lifted.
There will be five weeks between each stage of the restrictions being lifted, with four weeks set aside to assess new data, and one week notice given to industries to prepare for a reopening.
Non-essential retail, which includes betting shops, is expected to reopen during phase-2 of the government’s plan – which is provisionally pencilled in for 12 April – however its outcome will be dependent on four ‘tests’.
The four tests include a successful deployment of the vaccine scheme; evidence showing a reduction in both hospitalisations and deaths among the vaccinated population; evidence to suggest that ‘infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS’ and that the government’s ‘assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new Variants of Concern’.
Should the first two phases occur without any significant changes to hospitalisation rates, fans could return to sports grounds from 17 May, with up to 4,000 or 50% of capacity (whichever is lower) in attendance.
Meanwhile outdoor seated events – which includes football stadiums – will be allowed 10,000 fans or 25% of capacity, whichever is lowest.
Addressing MPs in the House of Commons yesterday prior to the national press conference, Johnson suggested that the government would be considering piloting large-scale events with enhanced COVID safety measures.
He said: “The turnstiles of our sports stadia will once again rotate, subject in all cases to capacity limits depending on the size of the venue. And we will pilot larger events using enhanced testing with the ambition of further easing of restrictions in the next step.”
Johnson added in his Downing Street briefing: “With every day that goes by this programme of vaccination is creating a shield around the entire population which means we’re travelling on a one-way road to freedom and we can begin to safely start our lives and with confidence.
“Thanks to the vaccinations there’s light leading us to a spring and summer which I think will be seasons of hope, looking and feeling incomparably better and from which we won’t go back.”
This news has largely been welcomed by sporting associations, as they hope to welcome back fans to stadiums and racecourses which have largely remained closed to the general public since March 2020.
In a statement, the Football Association said: “The FA is absolutely delighted fans will be allowed back soon. The game is simply not the same without them and we look forward to the return of full stadiums as soon as it is safe and possible.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also welcomed the plan, yet stressed certainty was needed over the future of the government furlough scheme for both businesses and workers.
UK gambling will be hoping to achieve a unified reopening for its retail units, as last year the industry was blighted by the staggered re-opening of venues impeded by different reopening schedules across the UK.
While the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) is said to be optimistic about the government’s roadmap, the Daily Mail has reported that the organisation is currently in talks with gambling operators over rescheduling the Randox Grand National by several days.
Currently, the Aintree fixture is due to take place on 10 April, two days before shops are permitted to reopen.
Reported by the Daily Mail, Simon Clare, PR director for Ladbrokes Coral, said: “If there was a way the Grand National could be put back a few days, it would deliver a massive boost for the sport.”