Scottish bookmakers have slammed Holyrood’s decision to reopen betting shops without chairs or live racing, saying the move is ‘mad’ and a ‘slap in the face’ for bookies who were most likely suffering during the lockout.
As part of the national initiative to counter Covid-19 ‘s spread, Scotland’s 900 betting shops – employing about 4,500 people – have been closed since March.
But while shops were given the green light to reopen on June 29, the government enforced strict measures with shops only permitted to open ‘only for betting purposes.’
Additionally, it was told the betting shops that all gaming machines need to be switched off to avoid coronavirus spreading.
John Heaton, chairman of Scotbet, the largest independent bookmaker in Scotland with 30 betting shops employing 100 staff, said: “It seems to me that this policy has been devised by someone who has never been in a betting shop. Dozens of customers hanging around watching the TV is a thing of the past. People come in, watch a race and leave again.
“The whole thing is just crazy, and a real slap in the face for an industry which has done its bit for the national effort to tackle Covid-19. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Scottish Government will think again.”
In comparison, England’s betting shops reopened on June 15, with anti-Covid initiatives such as “sneeze screens” and hand sanitisers to protect staff and customers.
Michael Dugher, the Betting and Gaming Council chief executive said: “Betting shops make a significant contribution to the economy, employing thousands of people, and they provide a safe play for the millions of Scots who like an occasional flutter.
“Banning betting shops in Scotland from showing live racing and talking away chairs for punters to sit on suggests a complete lack of understanding of how betting shops operate.
“For many of our customers, a trip to the bookies is something to look forward to after three months in lockdown. Yet the Scottish Government would deny them the right to sit and spend a few moments filling in a betting slip or watching a live race with friends, all sitting apart at a safe distance.
“And it’s frankly ludicrous that a punter can watch live coverage of a Scottish horse race in a betting shop in Carlisle, but not a few miles over the border in Gretna. We share the Scottish Government’s determination to keep customers and staff safe. It is perfectly possible to limit the number of people in a shop at any one time, just like in the rest of high street retail.
“I’ve heard the Scottish Government talk about ‘standing up for Scotland’, but taking away chairs in betting shops takes this to a new level. It’s frankly ridiculous.”