BGC urges business rates relief for Scottish betting shops

21 July 2020

The Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has warned the Scottish government that thousands of jobs in the gambling sector are at risk unless it grants business rates relief to betting shops in the country.

The government has so far excluded betting shops from its business rates relief scheme, which was set up to help companies impacted by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It waives the fees due from eligible businesses during the crisis.

This differs from the approach in England, where betting shops have been given business rates relief to help them through the crisis. They too were initially excluded from the scheme, before it was amended in late March.

Scottish Ministers have also refused to extend the retail, hospitality and leisure support grant to betting shops, despite this having been offered to others in the betting and gaming industry such as amusements, bingo halls, entertainment centres and racetracks.

According to the BGC, this lack of support from the government could lead to the closure of independent betting shops across Scotland, as they struggle to find the cash to pay bills.

“These businesses employ thousands of men and women across Scotland, and they deserve their government’s full support now that they are back at work,” BGC chief executive Michael Dugher said. “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.”

John Heaton, boss of Scotbet, which has 30 shops in Scotland, said the decision could cost his business up to £400,000 (€443,503/$507,636), at a time when takings are already down as a result of the pandemic.

“We feel very frustrated that we haven’t had the financial support independent bookmakers in England and others in the betting and gaming sector here in Scotland have received,” Heaton said.

“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.”

Scottish betting shops were permitted to reopen on 29 June, but initially faced a number of restrictions, including not being allowed to have chairs, run gaming machines or show live racing.

However, following a campaign led by the BGC, these restrictions – which were unique to Scotland – will be lifted from 22 July.

“We were delighted when the government listened to us [and lifted] the restrictions, which had led to a fall in turnover of up to 95% compared to pre-lockdown in some shops,” Dugher said.

“We are now calling on them to apply the business rates relief and grant support that others in our industry have received to betting shops.”