Anne McIntosh: How casinos and betting shops can help the economy recover once life returns to normal

2 Jul

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering is a former Conservative MP and MEP. This is a sponsored post by the Betting and Gaming Council.

On July 19, we hope to see the end of the remaining Covid restrictions, allowing people across the country to return to normal – or whatever the “new normal” will look like.

The pandemic has of course been difficult for all of us, especially for those who have lost loved ones and for the businesses which form the backbone of the UK economy. The lockdowns we have all had to endure over the past 18 months have been especially difficult for companies which rely on people coming through their doors on a daily basis to survive.

I have a particular interest in casinos and the night time economy, having chaired the Lords Committee on reviewing the Licensing Act 2003.

According to a recent study by Ernst and Young for the Betting and Gaming Council, casinos directly employ 11,600 people and, in the year before the pandemic, contributed £500 million to the Treasury in tax. In addition, casinos in London also contribute £120 million to the capital’s tourism sector, something which will prove vital once international travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

Clearly, Covid has been extremely difficult for the casino sector and I recognise the hard work that they have put in to support their staff and ensure their premises were Covid-secure upon re-opening. Millions of pounds have been spent on state-of-the-art test and trace systems, Plexiglass screens, hand sanitisation stations and installing social distancing measures.

These efforts were recognised in a report published earlier this year, in which Dr Lisa Ackerley, a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner, said: “The casino industry has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic by embracing the need to implement a full range of stringent measures to keep staff and customers safe. In my opinion, this industry’s response has resulted in it being as safe, if not safer, during the pandemic than many others.”

And it’s not just when it comes to Covid that the sector’s commitment to customer safety is demonstrated. Casinos are part of the Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), which ensures that their premises are no-go zones for anyone under the age of 18. I should declare an interest here as I am chair of the PASS board. Holders of age verification cards bearing the PASS hologram must pass stringent checks to prove that they are able to enter establishments which are off-limits to under-18s.

At a time when the Government is carrying out the Gambling Review – a much-needed exercise which I warmly support – it is important that ministers are fully aware of the efforts the industry is making to protect young people.

This is also demonstrated by betting shops, another important driver of economic growth which have suffered during the pandemic, as the lockdowns forced them to close their doors for months on end. According to the same Ernst and Young report I mentioned earlier, the UK’s 6,750 betting shops support 46,000 jobs and pay nearly £1 billion a year in tax to the Treasury. At a time when the Chancellor needs all the money he can get to repair the nation’s Covid-battered finances, these are not small numbers.

What’s more, betting shops are also vital parts of a successful high street. According to a report carried out before the pandemic by ESA Retail, 82 per cent of their customers visited at least once a week, with 89 per cent of them going on to visit other shops in the area. So it’s clear that prosperous betting shops are good news for local economies across the UK.

Betting shops are also signed up to the Proof of Age Scheme, preventing access by under-18s to betting shops and slot machines, providing a robust and secure age verification procedure. Indeed, according to Serve Legal, betting shops now have the highest pass rate for any age-restricted product retailers when it comes to keeping under 18s out of their premises.

Thankfully, it seems as though the Covid vaccines are doing their job and – according to Sajid Javid, the new Health Secretary – the full unlocking planned for July 19 will be an “irreversible” process. I sincerely hope he is correct, because the future success of casinos, betting shops and indeed the whole economy, depends on it.