n response to rapidly escalating numbers of coronavirus infections, Downing Street announced a national lockdown on 20 March, closing all entertainment venues from music halls to casinos. It was more than four months until the government allowed casinos to reopen their doors to the public with reduced capacity and social distancing guidelines in place on 15 August.
Now, as parts of the UK start to face new lockdown restrictions to bring a second wave under control, we can see the impact the first lockdown had on the industry across the UK.
Covid-19’s impact on gambling
As a result of the government’s national lockdown, all land-based gambling venues in the UK were closed on 20 March. In one fell swoop this decision wiped off 50% of the revenues (excluding lotteries) of the British gambling industry.
However, it was not all bad news for the industry. Online operators saw a significant uptick in trade, with sites such as BestCasino.co.uk seeing a dramatic rise in traffic as players moved online. Without any significant additional marketing spend, industry figures for March 2020 showed a 25% increase in online slots use, 38% in online poker use and 40% increase in virtual betting use.
Detailed statistics that indicate the overall impact of the pandemic on the gambling industry will not be available to the public until midway through 2021 when companies accounts are published. Nonetheless, recent YouGov polling indicates a poor outlook for the sector over the next few months and Genting Casino’s announcement that they were planning to release 1,600 employees because of the pandemic suggests that land-based casinos face an increasingly uncertain future.
Different rules across the UK
A a number of casinos remain open to the public today, but with each nation imposing its own version of lockdown and English regions each on varying tiers, the situation remains uncertain.
The Westminster government finally took the decision to allow casinos in England to reopen on August 15th. Since then casinos in the country have been able to welcome in members of the public on the proviso that they implement a series of strict guidelines to staff and customers to limit the risk of transmission.
Over the summer when the transmission rates of the virus were low the majority of casinos in England were free to operate, albeit at a reduced capacity. However, earlier this month the government released plans for a three-tier system for England.
The system – medium, high and very high – is intended to tell people how severe the infection rate is in their local area. And with each tier comes increased restrictions on businesses and local populations.
At the time of writing Merseyside, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester are all categorised as Tier 3 and as such have stringent lockdown laws that have forced casinos in these areas to once again shut their doors to the public.
Warrington, Nottingham and large parts of North and East Yorkshire are expected to be placed into Tier 3 later this week. To find out what restrictions are in place in your area, check the latest government advice HERE.
For the first few months of the pandemic Stormont largely followed the advice from Westminster. However, as the virus progressed, Arlene Foster and Michell O’Neill began to distance themselves from the chaotic last minute changes coming from Downing Street.
Northern Irish gambling venues did reopen over the summer months, but as a result of rising infection rates, Stormont took the decision to impose a strict four-week national lockdown earlier this month. Recent news of NI hospitals reaching intensive care unit capacity casts into doubt any hopes of an easing of restrictions any time soon.
Edinburgh’s response to the pandemic shares many similarities with that of Westminster, but Nicola Sturgeon has been keen to take a tougher stance and impose restrictions earlier to better limit the impact on the Scottish health service.
Earlier this month new temporary measures were implemented that saw casinos in Aryshire & Arran, Forth Valley, Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian forced to close. The Betting and Gaming Council have called this imposition “a huge blow” to the industry but has said that it remains hopeful of an easing of restrictions in the coming weeks and months.
Of all four nation states within the UK, Wales has arguably taken the toughest stance on Covid-19 restrictions. The country’s four land-based casinos all reopened in August, but the Welsh government’s firebreak restrictions forced all four Welsh casinos to close on 23 October. At the time of writing there are no concrete proposals or plans that suggest when they will be able to reopen.