England Betting Shops to Reopen as Spectators Return to Horseracing Post-Lockdown

New COVID-19 measures to benefit sportsbooks

Betting shops across England can reopen on December 2, with limited crowds also allowed to return to the country’s racecourses. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the government’s revised COVID-19 restrictions via video link to the House of Commons on November 23.

Sportsbooks and the racing industry received the PM’s announcement with “surprise and delight”, the London-based racing and sports betting daily Racing Post said. UK industry representative the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) tweeted it was “great news” for bettors and betting shop staff:

Currently, England’s betting shops are the only non-essential retail businesses required to close their doors in the highest COVID-19 risk level-three areas. When England comes out of lockdown next week, however, betting shops can resume activity, even in level-three zones.

UK government’s change of heart

According to the Racing Post, one “key concession” made by the gambling industry altered the UK government’s mindset on betting shop closures. While already adhering to stringent pandemic-proof measures, gambling shops further agreed to remove all chairs, limit the number of customers in shops, and not air any live sport.

“We now look forward to England coming out of lockdown next week, with betting shops back contributing to the Exchequer and playing their part in helping power the country’s economic recovery,” BGC CEO Michael Dugher said.

casinos must remain shuttered in level-three areas

Dugher added that it was “extremely disappointing” that casinos must remain shuttered in level-three areas, but he welcomed the move to extend the hospitality curfew from 10pm to 11pm in lower-risk zones.

Despite casinos still being mostly left out in the cold, the news that England’s 5,681 betting shops can reopen is welcome news for racing industry financiers. It’s estimated that the latest COVID-19 lockdown has cost racing £12.5m ($16.69m) in lost levy and media rights payments following betting shop closures.

Racing quick out the stalls

Speaking of the return of spectators to horseracing, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden, expressed his delight on Monday in getting “the turnstiles turning sooner than expected.”

PM Johnson said he’s likely to confirm on Thursday a geographical breakdown of which parts of the country fall under which risk levels. In the meantime, No. 10 tweeted the tiered structure that England will return to on December 2:

The Daily Mail reports that one of the first industry bodies to burst out the stalls could be Jockey Club Racecourses (JCR). JCR’s Wincanton track in rural Somerset looks likely to be one of the first to welcome fans back on December 3.

British Horseracing Authority (BHA) chief executive Nick Rust said Boris Johnson’s announcement was “more welcome news” after the UK government last week announced a support package of £40m ($53.4m) in loans for horseracing. According to a joint statement from the BHA, the Racecourse Association, and the Horseman’s Group, details of the conditions for applying for the loans will be available later this week.

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