Casinos and betting shops to learn their post lockdown fate in England 

By Ethan Anderson Updated
UK gambling law reforms delayed until at least May

A council representing betting and gaming in England is calling on the government to put betting shops and casinos on a level playing field with other non-essential businesses as England maps its way out of coronavirus imposed restrictions.

Gambling Insider reports that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce how lockdown restrictions will be eased in England on February 22, including when retail and hospitality businesses can reopen.

He’s also expected to announce when schools can reopen and when larger group meetings are allowed.

England went into its third lockdown on January 4, when Mr Johnson announced a stay at home order for the public, with the majority of retail and hospitality businesses forced to shut.

The Betting and Gaming Council said the latest easing of restrictions must give the land-based gambling industry the same opportunities to reopen as the rest of the hospitality sector.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said betting shops must be allowed to reopen alongside other non-essential retail.

“Last summer, when most betting shops were able to open, they showed they have best-in-class anti-COVID measures compared to any other part of the high street to protect customers and staff.

Likewise, casinos are eager to help Britain get back on its feet.

“There will be no let-up in our commitment to safety but we need the economy to open up again, not least if we are to revive the country’s tax take and fund vital public services like the NHS.

“But thousands of people employed in betting shops and casinos deserve nothing less than a level playing field, so that everyone gets the same opportunities to recover.”

The announcement by the Prime Minister comes at a time when coronavirus cases in the country are falling, recorded at slightly more than 12,000 on February 18, with more than 16.4 million people receiving the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Online gambling surge amid UK lockdown 

Britons stuck at home due to coronavirus are hitting the real money online casinos, providing a boost for operators of virtual games such as blackjack and roulette.

Bloomberg reported in March that 888 Holdings Plc said it’d seen increased customer activity in the casino and poker operations that make up the majority of its revenue, echoing comments made on March 19 by gambling technology firm Playtech.

The “encouraging” update from 888 reinforces the view that online casinos can mitigate losses arising from the cancellation of sporting events.

Gavin Kelleher, an analyst at broker Goodbody, said in a note.

888 got about 15 per cent of revenue from sports betting in 2018.

888 stock soared as much as 38 per cent Tuesday, the most ever, paring a plunge that followed widespread postponement of sports from soccer to horse racing as well as broader concerns about the virus’s impact on the economy.

The shares are down 33 per cent in the year, much less than the 77 per cent drop for bookmaker William Hill, which relies more on sports.

Among 888’s closest peers, Gamesys Group Plc has risen about 32 per cent since the firm said March 17 it’s seeing “good momentum across the business”.

But despite Playtech’s comments, its stock is down about 56 per cent over the past month.

Peel Hunt analysts Ivor Jones and Douglas Jack warned that Playtech’s live casino operation requires a large number of employees to be in the same place at the same time, operating tables that are streamed to people playing online.

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