The UK’s leading gambling association, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), has called for retail betting to form a key component of a post-pandemic high street revival.
Brigid Simmonds, who chairs the BGC, has asked the Communities and Local Government Select Committee, which is currently looking into what support can be given to high streets to place the needs of the retail betting industry at the heart of its plans.
In a statement released on Monday, Simmonds welcomed the fact that high street bookmakers and land-based casinos across the UK have been able to open their doors after a period of enforced closure that was caused by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Simmonds made the case for the importance of supporting the land-based betting industry at a time when traffic on the high street in the UK has dropped to a quarter of pre-Covid-19 levels. She added that the 6,900 betting shops in the UK employ roughly 40,000 people, while casinos employ another 14,000 workers and have made a tax contribution of £1.3 billion during the last three years. And she called on the committee to make courageous recommendations for the future of high streets:
“When hospitality, leisure and tourism, including our betting shops and casinos, make such a vital contribution to the UK economy, their needs must be at the forefront of our economic recovery.”
Her statement made the further point that visitors to retail gaming establishments also provide custom for the broader high street, with 89% of regular betting shop visitors also visiting other shops on the high street. And she points out that the lack of international visitors has hit the casino sector hard, meaning that without action to protect this part of the industry, many betting and leisure businesses will not survive the autumn, resulting in high streets becoming ghost towns.
In addition, she called upon the Select Committee to look into business rates, which she says are long overdue for a review, and stated that bringing positive changes to UK high streets would need action from local communities and both national and local government.
Land based gaming venues shut down in March, at the time of the national lockdown. Betting venues, alongside other non-essential high street businesses, including clothes shops, arcades and car dealerships, were allowed to reopen in the middle of June, but with strict conditions. These included the completion of a risk assessment, union consultation and further steps to ensure that they were able to provide a safe and secure environment. Land based casinos in England reopened from August 15, while Scotland’s casino sector followed suit on August 24.