Without a doubt, the global pandemic has resulted in the need for swift and sometimes unpopular action from local governments around the world.
As the UK faces yet another uptick in its infections, with total fatalities nearing 45,000 as of 23 October, it is not the need for action that has received criticism but rather the illogical manner in which specific markets seem to be singled out.
The Tyranny of Tier 3 Restrictions
The UK government has moved Lancashire into Tier 3 of its Covid-19 restrictions which is the highest alert level in the scheme.
The basic rules of conduct under Tier 3 are:
- No socialising with people outside of your home or support bubble
- No more than six people (who do not share a home) can gather in an outdoor venue such as a park or the beach
- Weddings are limited to 15 attendees and may not be held at a home
- Funerals are limited to 30 attendees
The government has made exceptions in terms of gathering limitations for pubs, restaurants, leisure venues and entertainment venues. In particular, an allowance was made for pubs to continue operating provided they simply serve meals with their alcohol.
Even gyms, which were the initial areas of concern for the further spread of infection, given the nature of sharing limited space and equipment, will be allowed to continue operating under Tier 3 restrictions.
While on paper it appears to be even-handed the reality is that one of the only business segments in Lancashire which will be shut down by this combination of restrictions and requirements are casinos and betting shops..
Jonathon Swaine, managing director of Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo said:
"At first we thought that the decisions being made were arbitrary but it’s now clear that our casinos are being subjected to an aggressive and needless attack by decision-makers who clearly understand nothing of just how safe casinos are and appear determined to damage the land-based betting and gaming industry for the sake of it.”
The caveat that allows pubs to remain open if they serve a meal seems specifically catered to allow them to remain open while casinos will have to close, all which add credence to Swaine’s insistence that the regulations represent a "targeted attack”.
The Betting and Gaming Council Speak Up
In response this knee jerk response from the British government BGC chief executive, Michael Dugher, has spoken up in support of the more than 1100 people who will be left jobless should the regions three casinos and more than two hundred betting shops be forced to close.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, betting shops and casinos have played their full role in the national effort to tackle this virus. The simple fact is that there is no evidence that closing betting shops and casinos will slow the spread of Covid-19 and any impact from their closure will be negligible.”
Less than two weeks ago local gambling sites, based on the data that showed alcohol consumption could lead to less safe behaviours, offered to shut their bars to support flattening the curve.
Now, these venues which have some of the most advanced and effective infection transmission safeguards in place will be the only ones to close.
The Cause Reaches Mainstream Media
The outcry for support for the gambling sector and what it represents in terms of much-needed government funding (£30 million in taxes plus £6.6 million to horseracing) and the role it plays in ensuring people can eat and pay their bills has reached the airwaves of mainstream media outlets.
The Mayor of Greater Britain, Andy Burnham, has spoken up on the issue in interviews with both the BBC and Sky News where he agrees that Westminster politicians have made a decision which does not consider the impact on the economy and on the people who “will face certain harm”.
He has publicly called for a review of the decision to move the region to Tier 3, failing that he has demanded a firm answer on the issue of the financial support package the government will offer businesses placed in harm’s way by their “ill-informed and arbitrary” decision.