Scotland’s betting shops reopened on June 29, but it was expected that by July 22 based on promises made by the government at Holyrood that gaming machines would be turned back on, a decision that has now been reversed.
High street shops have now essentially been ordered to turn off all gaming machines, the move being part of a set of rules introduced for the reopening of shops including no chairs being allowed and no live horse racing being shown. Betting shops in England are not subject to the same restrictions.
Government Writes to BGC
Communication from the Betting and Gaming Council was aimed at applying enough pressure on the government to allow machines to be played, though it must always be pointed out that this is not a view shared by most horse racing and sports-related betting groups.
Now, Holyrood has ignored such pressure and reversed the previous decision to allow gaming machines to be used.
Writing to the council’s chief exec however, Michael Dugher, the Scottish government has said the restrictions already in place since shops reopened at the end of June would now remain, the target being to keep everyone visiting shops safe.
The letter, which was made public, states that: “consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance”.
It seems now though that officials feel that while the definition of gambling machines in betting shops and amusement arcades is a difficult area to assess due to overlapping considerations, it was easier to take no risks and simply not allow the machines to be played.
BGC & Bookies Unhappy with Government’s Decision
While the Scottish government’s stance is that they have taken their decision in order to offer a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines, the Betting and Gaming Council have moved to criticise the decision.
Chairman of the BGC, Brigid Simmonds, says that the decision by the Scottish government not only directly contradicts what they told her organisation previously but also that jobs could now be at risk.
With high street shops in Scotland already under very harsh financial pressure, arguably as a result of Nicola Sturgeon’s government refusing to give 100% business rate relief as is the case in other sectors, this latest move adds another huge blow to the industry.
The leader of Scotland’s biggest independent bookmaker Scotbet also hit out at the decision this week, stating that his firm are now incurring all the costs of the in-shop product without having the benefit of the revenue that the machines bring.
Decision Hard to Criticise from the Outside
While it cannot be argued that the decision to first of all limit gaming machine stakes, then due to COVID-19 ban them altogether, will definitely impact high street shop revenue and therefore risk jobs it is hard to completely plant a flag with the bookmakers on this issue.
Given how harmful such machines are it is understandable that many want to see their use limited further and eventually scrapped completely.
The main issue here, one could argue, is Nicola Sturgeon and her government’s continued failure to engage properly while also appearing to backtrack completely on decisions made.
While it would still not have been a popular decision, had the directive been made for certain at the beginning that shops could not use gaming machines employers could have planned for the eventuality instead of relying on what income they bring.