UK focus: How will betting and gaming be affected by lockdown 2?

Despite being over two hours late, and with the news having already been reported in Friday's newspapers, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally confirmed that the UK will go into a second national lockdown on Saturday evening. From a business sense, it was the news many in the betting and gaming sectors had dreaded.

But with it being a very different lockdown to the UK's first in terms of how it will impact the industry, the biggest loser is once again the retail sector. Online operators will this time have a full complement of products to offer players as they seek entertainment options while sat homebound.

That's because, added to the booming online casino, poker, virtual and esports verticals, professional sport goes ahead as normal without cancellations during this second lockdown. So, at the unfortunate expense of its land-based counterpart, we must not kid ourselves by thinking the circumstances – though caused by an awful pandemic – are anything other than beneficial for digital companies.

Naturally, however, retail betting outlets can be afforded justified sympathy here. Although the evidence presented by the Prime Minister and chief scientists on Saturday night made sense in terms of keeping hospital numbers down and avoiding high COVID-19 peaks, especially in the most-affected areas, there must be an element of bewilderment from betting shops and casinos.

The reason? They spent huge amounts COVID-proofing their properties, ensuring those properties were scientifically proven to safeguard against spreading coronavirus. Now, they are suddenly told they are not.

Of course, with all non-essential shops and entertainment properties also shut for this month-long lockdown, beginning Thursday 5 November, you would have gotten odds longer than Leicester winning the Premier League that casinos would have been allowed to stay open.

But it is understandable that the Betting & Gaming Council (BGC) has once again called on the Government to take a "science-led approach" and allow casinos and betting shops to safely reopen once this lockdown ends.

The BGC has often repeated the same message over and over again in 2020, and you have to question whether banging the same drum repeatedly is really an effective strategy if it continues to fall upon deaf ears. Yet, here, the body is absolutely justified in its latest comments.

BGC CEO Michael Dugher said: "Nothing matters more to our industry than the safety of our staff and customers, which is why we want to contribute to the national effort to defeat this virus.

"We also welcome the support for businesses forced to close under the second lockdown. But when we exit this, the Government must have a science-led approach and avoid the arbitrary and unnecessary decisions that led to random closures of casinos and betting shops, which damage employment and revenues to the Exchequer.

"It’s also important that when the latest lockdown is over, betting shops are allowed to open safely along with other non-essential retail, as they were in June. Casinos, which have the best anti-COVID measures operating anywhere in hospitality and entertainment, should also reopen at the same time.

"At a time when there is widespread despair among sporting bodies, the Government needs to recognise that a healthy betting industry is vital to the funding of sport, and that betting shops in particular are critical to the financing of horseracing."

There is nothing unfair about the above comments from Dugher. And the best the retail betting sector can now hope for is that it's allowed a fair restart once the second lockdown ends. Not the muddle it had to suffer the first time around.

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