Shuttered UK Casinos Face ‘Existential’ Summer

  • Table game hygiene fears a key factor
  • Venues already closing down for good
  • Rank Group burning £10m a month

Spurned by the UK government this week, the country’s land-based casinos are burning through their cash while weighing permanent closures and mass lay-offs.

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a relaxation of lockdown restrictions in England, allowing for much of the country’s hospitality industry to reopen, but casinos were left off the list even as bingo halls and arcades were permitted to restart.

It was a cautious decision that showed “a serious misunderstanding as to how casinos operate in practice”, according to Simon Thomas, the CEO of the Hippodrome Casino in London’s Leicester Square.

In meetings with the government, which sources indicated to VIXIO GamblingCompliance were dominated by the concerns of the chief medical officer, a number of hygiene issues emerged.

The government’s medical advisors chose to exclude casinos over fears that they could not guarantee to sanitise every gaming chip or restrict customers to playing only on a single table, as they sought to keep their reopening list as small as possible.

To allay government fears, the casino sector’s representatives promised there would be player registration backed up by CCTV monitoring, hand sanitisation at the beginning and end of each playing session and the dealing of cards face up to avoid player contact.

According to Thomas, “we agreed as an industry that we’d be able to satisfy track and trace at the gaming table”.

“With a one metre distancing rule the limited number of places at each table would mean players would not move from table to table,” Thomas added.

Some other excluded sectors, including gyms, may be allowed to open later in July, according to UK culture secretary Oliver Dowden, but with no certainty on when casino reopening will be reconsidered, concerns are mounting that the industry will be decimated by the shutdown.

According to Jon Duffy, senior vice president of corporate assurance and regulatory affairs at Genting: “If casinos are unable to open fully by the end of July it will be an existential threat for some in the industry, by September it will become an existential threat for most.”

The burden of closure has already forced difficult decisions.

Genting has confirmed it will not reopen its casinos in Margate, Torquay and Bristol, and more of the company’s 4,000 staff are understood to remain at risk while the company’s losses run at more than £6m per month.

Separately, The Ritz Club confirmed this month that it would not re-open at all — the first of London’s select group of tourist dependent high-end casinos to throw in the towel.

Meanwhile, Nikolaus Strohriegel, senior vice president of European operations at the Bath casino’s owners Century Casinos, on Thursday confirmed to VIXIO that “the Bath casino company is currently being liquidated”.

The UK gambling industry’s lobbying group, the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC), called the decision to keep casinos closed on July 4 “inconsistent and frankly nonsensical”.

On Thursday, John O’Reilly, the CEO of Rank Group, which operates 56 Grosvenor casinos across the UK, added painful detail in a blog post on the BGC’s site.

“At Rank, we are burning cash at a rate of £10m per month, even accounting for digital revenues. For every day that our Grosvenor casinos remain closed, the liquidity on our balance sheet is being drained.

“At the same time, we remain reliant on the government’s furlough payments for the vast majority of our 4,600 Grosvenor colleagues which is costing c.£1.5m every week,” he said.

O’Reilly added that the government was not receiving a similar amount in tax payments while “our COVID-safe casinos are all dressed up, but our loyal and patient customers have nowhere to go”.

Not all European nations have been as hesitant as the UK when it comes to reopening their land-based casinos, with Austria, Cyprus, Serbia, Portugal and Switzerland among the countries reopening theirs this month.

Casinos in France were permitted to open using just their machines and electronic table games on June 2, and card clubs and table games followed on June 22. All 200 casinos in France have now reopened, with the final card club set to reopen on July 2.

Still, for the UK’s casinos, which are limited in many cases to just 20 gaming machines each, such an opening without table games would barely be commercially viable.

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