As daily updates from the government see more and more areas in the UK under stricter COVID restrictions, – today sees South Yorkshire join Lancashire, Liverpool, Wales and parts of Scotland in tier three – millions of people are now under lockdown and dozens upon dozens of bingo halls closed.
Having just survived the first lockdown with around 10- 15% of bingo halls closing, most notably Buzz Bingo closing 26 clubs, bingo managers have voiced their concerns over the number of visitors after reopening. Capacity limitations, curfews, strict COVID measurements and a general public wary of confined spaces have been taking their toll.
Now, with the UK government closing down more of the country and subsequently, more of the country's bingo halls, the government's policies are coming under increasing criticism.
“An Aggressive and Needless Attack”
Jonathon Swaine, managing director of the Rank Group PLC (LON: RNK), the operator and owner of Mecca Bingo halls and Grosvenor Casinos spoke out. For the Rank Group, the Merseyside bingo halls are allowed to stay open. However, The Rank Group will have to close four more Mecca Bingo sites in Greater Manchester – Mecca Bolton, Mecca Rochdale, Mecca Oldham and Mecca Sale. Swaine, who at time of writing is still awaiting clarity as to whether three Mecca sites in South Yorkshire – in Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham – can stay open, said of the government actions:
“At first we thought that the decisions being made were arbitrary but it’s now clear that our casinos are being subjected to an aggressive and needless attack by decision-makers who clearly understand nothing of just how safe casinos are and appear determined to damage the land-based betting and gaming industry for the sake of it.
“Venues such as pubs are able to remain open and serve alcohol if they also sell a meal, which leaves gambling venues as the only ones ordered by the government to shut up shop. It is grossly unfair.
“As well as operating to the very highest Covid-secure standards with robust evidence to support that position, casinos support huge numbers of jobs whilst paying up to 50% tax rates to the Exchequer.
“We have offered to close our casino bars in exchange for permission to trade but are still being forced to close and we’re yet to see or hear of a single shred of evidence that supports that decision. It’s a targeted attack on betting and gaming premises, the tens of thousands of employees and customers in this sector and the time has come to call it out for what it is.”
“Attacking Working-Class Culture”
Local councils have been quick to criticise the government's actions too. The Leader of Sheffield Council has laid into the Government for closing betting shops and bingo halls and accused them of attacking Northern working-class culture.
Council Leader Julie Dore said the venues were not a high risk whilst the Betting and Gaming Council pointed out 1,300 employees across the region will be impacted. Dore said:
“These are a Northern working-class culture – I have had to explain to ministers what goes on in betting shops.
“I can go to a pub serving lunch with my family and sit for a couple of hours but you can’t go to a bingo session or nip into a bookies to place a bet.
“It’s unfair. We have to stop the spread of the virus but it’s balancing that with people’s mental and physical health and the economy. A weekly visit to the bingo hall might be the only social contact some people get.”
“It Makes Zero Sense”
John O'Reilly, the 60-year old CEO of the Rank Group Plc (LON: RNK) weighed in on the topic dominating the bingo news, saying:
“It makes zero sense.”
“I can open my bingo halls in Liverpool. But I have to shut my bingo hall in Blackpool. We have been clumsily and inadvertently caught up in misdirected measures that do nothing to suppress the virus, but which have put thousands of jobs and livelihoods at risk.”
The Rank Group owns 77 Mecca bingo halls and 51 Grosvenor casinos in the UK, as well as the Mecca Bingo online site, one of the UK's top bingo sites. The gambling operator employs around 7200 people, which is down from the 7700 employees from the same time last year. O'Reilly warned on the impact upon its staff, saying:
“The impact on colleagues is immense. They are bereft frankly. We're left in the bizarre situation where we're contributing to the Treasury in Southport by generating revenues but relying on Treasury support in Blackpool by virtue of being shut down.”
Keep up to date with the latest lockdown bingo closures here.