Scottish betting shops have called for business rates relief amid fears that stores could close for good due to extraneous costs resulting from COVID-19.
The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has implored the Scottish Government to follow England’s example and make betting shops eligible for rates relief thereby allowing firms, whose income slumped during the pandemic, to waive what they would normally have to pay or risk losing hundreds of independent betting shops.
In a further blow, ministers have refused to offer grant support to bookies. Retail, hospitality and leisure support grants have been offered to others in the betting and gaming industry, including amusements, bingo halls, entertainment centres and racetracks, but not betting shops.
According to Scotbet boss John Heaton, the decision not to allow bookmakers to claim business rates relief will cost his firm £400,000 at a time when takings are already down and jeopardise the survival of 30 stores in Scotland.
“We feel very frustrated we haven't had the financial support independent bookmakers in England and others in the betting and gaming sector here in Scotland have received,” said Heaton. “The sums involved are not material to the large bookmakers but, for us, it is about survival. The likely impact is that the independent sector will die and the big bookmakers carry on regardless, grateful that their independent competitors have been removed for them.”
Scotland’s move to exclude bookies from receiving government financial aid comes after the lifting of certain operating restrictions that the BGC claimed contributed to a fall in turnover of 95% compared to pre-lockdown in some stores.
BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said the organisation was “delighted” that restrictions were lifted, but is now requesting that ministers "apply to betting shops the business rates relief and grant support that others in our industry have received".
Dugher added: “These businesses employ thousands across Scotland and they deserve their Government's full support now that they are back at work. If they don't get it, many will sadly lose their jobs as their shops are forced to close. The Scottish Government needs to pull out all the stops to prevent that from happening and ensure betting shops can play their part in getting the economy back on its feet.”