Gambling machines in Scotland must be deactivated again following a new order from the Holyrood government.
In a move characterised by the gambling industry as a “u-turn”, an announcement from the Scottish government on Wednesday confirmed that all gaming machines must remain switched off as part of the country’s anti-coronavirus measures.
Operators had originally been told they could restart machines from July 22, but an announcement on Wednesday afternoon appeared to reverse that order.
That means machines in betting shops and pubs that had been switched on earlier in the day needed to be turned back off immediately, with no indication of when they will be allowed to restart.
Bingo halls, casinos and adult gaming centres remain closed, even as Scotland moves into Phase 3 of its lockdown easing programme.
Scotland has control over its own pandemic response, separately from the UK’s central government in Westminster.
Some gambling venues in the country were given permission to reopen on June 29, some weeks after those in England and with harsher health and safety restrictions.
Betting shops were not allowed to offer seats for customers or show live racing.
Confirming the news on gambling machines, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) said its chief executive Michael Dugher had been sent a letter from a Scottish government official.
“Consideration has been given to whether gaming machines could be switched on within betting shops under the close contact retail guidance,” said the letter, according to the BGC.
“The precise definition of amusement arcades and the use of gambling machines in different locations is a complex area with overlapping considerations that are difficult to assess.
“The decision has been taken that we want to have a consistent approach regarding the use of gaming machines while always keeping people safe. Therefore the existing restrictions remain in place at present.”
The BGC also said it was sent a separate government letter last week “[confirming] that current restrictions will be lifted on July 22”.
Brigid Simmonds, chair of the BGC, said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously.
“I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”
The chairman of Scotland’s largest independent betting shop chain, Scotbet, said the industry was now facing “the worse of all worlds”.
“We’re now incurring all the cost of the in-shop product without the benefit of the machines. They seem determined to put as many betting shops out of business as they can, and it’s independent shops like ours that will suffer the most,” John Heaton said.
The BGC had another run-in with the Scottish government this week, after the group made a public call for betting shops to be included in a business rates scheme on Tuesday.
Unlike in England, betting shops in Scotland have been excluded from a business rates relief scheme set up to support companies badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scotbet’s Heaton said the decision would cost his company around £400,000.