Despite concerns over a second wave of COVID-19 infections, the UK is out of the national lockdown that has been in place since March 16. In its stead, the government has opted for more targeted local lockdown restrictions.
Not so much fun anymore
Starting in July, different businesses were slowly allowed to reopen – pubs, hairdressers, beauty salons, spas and gyms were the notable examples. But other large entertainment venues remained closed to the public, including the 125 UK Casinos.
This was supposed to change at the beginning of August when the government planned to allow bigger venues like casinos and cinemas to open. But a spike in COVID-19 cases forced a delay in that plan.
To make matters even more complicated, the different counties in the United Kingdom all have separate reopening plans and dates for casinos. So it would be best to look at the current status of casinos in England, Scotland, and Wales separately.
All UK casinos were allowed to open in August
Casinos across the UK were allowed to open in August. As of September, folks can visit a casino and gamble in England, Scotland, and Wales, subject to certain rules and restrictions. But this did not happen all at once – each region had a different date for reopening.
Casinos in England
The vast majority of UK casinos are in England, with London alone having around 25 major gambling establishments. Given the sheer size of this industry, English casinos were the first to reopen in the UK.
The original date for reopening had been August 1, but due to increased infections, this was pushed to August 15. And on that day casinos were allowed to reopen, along with other venues like theatres and bowling alleys.
All the big casino brands immediately opened their venues to customers, subject to various safety measures. The casinos open include those owned by the Genting Group and the Grosvenor Group.
Casinos in Scotland and Wales
Scotland is home to around a dozen casinos. The government allowed casinos to reopen on August 24. Many of them have opened for business as of September 2020, including at least four Grosvenor casinos.
There are only four casinos in Wales as of 2020, all split between Cardiff and Swansea. They were the last to be allowed to reopen in the UK. As of 29 August, these casinos are open for business, subject to COVID-19 restrictions.
But they are subject to strict restrictions
The threat of COVID-19 remains high in the UK as autumn and winter loom closer. Casinos by their very nature are high-risk venues for virus transmission. As a result, the government has imposed stringent conditions for casinos.
One of the biggest restrictions will be a cap on the number of visitors that will be allowed in a venue. To enforce social distancing, casinos will not be allowed to operate at full capacity. Social distancing rules will also force casinos to change the placement of gaming tables and slot machines.
All casinos will have to provide hand sanitizers and face masks on request to guests. Staff will also need voluntary PPE kits. Plastic screens will be erected to separate players from the dealers at gaming tables.
The rules will also impact how certain games are played. Cards, for instance, will now have to be dealt open, as players are not allowed to touch them anymore. This will have a huge impact on how certain games like three-card poker are played and won.
Craps and other similar dice games will not be allowed at UK casinos. There is no way to practically enforce social distancing in a game where people crowd together and roll dice at a table.
UK casinos face a tough and uncertain future
The entire land-based betting industry has been hit hard by the Coronavirus. The months of lockdown have resulted in lost revenues that go into the hundreds of millions of pounds. Many of the smaller casinos are reportedly on the brink of insolvency.
According to the Betting and Gaming Council, the two-week delay in reopening alone cost the casinos £14 million in losses, roughly a million pounds per day. To have any hope of a recovery of sorts, the casinos will have to stay open and attract patrons throughout the rest of 2020.
This is made even harder because of the UK’s regulated online gambling market. Players are legally allowed to play thousands of slots for real money and never leave the comfort of their homes. During the first wave of the pandemic, online casinos shattered records in terms of new players and amounts gambled. It will be very difficult to lure players back to brick and mortar casinos.
And then there is the ever-present threat of further lockdowns. Even local restrictions can prove painful, as is the case in Leicester, Huddersfield, and the Greater Manchester area in early September. Due to local lockdowns in these places, the casinos remain shut. As the virus remains active among the population, this game of cat and mouse will continue unabated.
The prognosis is quite grim
Given the predictions of a rise in COVID-19 cases during winter, we cannot rule out another national lockdown towards the tail-end of 2020. If this second wave does indeed materialize, it would have a painful impact on the UK casino industry. Given their social nature, land casinos across the world face an uncertain future. Online casinos look poised to reap the rewards.