UK amusements industry stunned by government U-turn on re-opening

Boris Johnson AGCs Adult Gaming Centre reopening u-turn
COPYRIGHT: UK PARLIAMENT_JESSICA TAYLOR
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The UK gaming and amusements industry were advised earlier this evening that the government has decided to reverse its decision to allow adult gaming centres to open on Monday 15 June.

 

Immediately following the call from government, trade body Bacta notified its members of the U-turn, and compiled an emergency submission to Number 10 requesting the Prime Minister to revert back to the original decision permitting AGCs to re-open in four days time.

In its letter to members, Bacta CEO John White advised: “Earlier this evening we were told that the Government has at this exceptionally late stage decided not to allow AGCs to open on Monday. We need every member to act immediately by phoning and emailing any political contact that you have whether MP or local councillor, to tell the Prime Minister that he has made a serious mistake and he must reverse this outrageous decision.”

The timing of the news has angered many in the industry; several hundred arcade operators up and down the country have spent “thousands of pounds” each preparing for the re-opening and acquiring anti-Covid safety and hygiene equipment.

What has stunned the industry further is the decision that high street bookies will be allowed to open on Monday.

The decision has sent shock-waves around the AGC sector with many operators angered that the decision wasn’t despatched earlier or co-ordinated with local authorities. One venue had been advised by its local authority earlier today that they would be allowed to open. Posting on an industry group page, the operator wrote: “This is what mine [local authority] replied with today when I asked for clarification.

Following the most up to date advice and guidance provided by HM Government I can confirm that your business is able to open and trade from 15 June 2020 subject to the requirements contained in the Working safely during coronavirus (COVID19) guidance which can be found here.”

Meanwhile, Bacta has requested all its members to contact their MPs in a campaign identified as “Twelve hours to save our AGCS.” At the same time the association has compiled its response to the Prime Minister outlining the work its members have done to get Covid ready and the economic importance of AGCs re-opening next week.

Bacta’s letter to Number 10 says: “Thanks for taking my call earlier. Below are the principal reasons why the reversal of the decision to allow AGCs to open is both wrong in principle and practice. I cannot see how two very similar High Street venues can be treated differently. There is no logic to it and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic for the AGC sector.”

The campaign to save the country’s AGCs was outlined to the PM and is included below.

Bacta officials are expected to convene during the course of tomorrow and contact members for their response.

INDUSTRY SUBMISION MADE TO NUMBER TEN.

Thanks for taking my call earlier.  Below are the principal reasons why the reversal of the decision to allow AGCs to open is both wrong in principle and practice.  I cannot see how two very similar High Street venues can be treated differently.  There is no logic to it and the consequences are nothing short of catastrophic for the AGC sector.

 

  • Britain’s c3000 AGCs are non-essential retail and so should be allowed to open on the same day as other non-essential retail.

 

  • They should not be treated any differently to Licences Betting Offices (LBOs) which are being allowed to open on Monday:
    • They are shops offering low stake low prize recreational gambling to over-18 customers.
    • They share customer demographics and compete for machine playing customers because LBOs have amongst their offer, four of the same categories of Gaming Machines as found in AGCs.  In addition they offer in LBOs, Self Service Betting Machines
    • In fact, LBOs have more customers than AGCs

 

  • AGCs have invested heavily in social distancing and staff/customer hygiene – very similar to LBOs. It is a safe environment for customers:
  • Comprehensive social distancing and public hygiene measures have been developed and rolled out in accordance with Government and Sector Guidance in all AGCs.
  • Even a busy AGC will have very low footfall, typically in single figures, on the premises at any one time throughout the day.
  • AGCs have spent an estimated £2.5 million on PPE and reconfiguration of AGCs to ensure social distancing between customers/staff.

 

  • There will be a huge financial cost to AGCs who have made extensive reopening preparations. A number may be forced to close because of this measure which will have a knock-on effect on local economies and unemployment levels:
  • All staff have been taken off of furlough ready for re-opening on Monday, adding around £2 million per week to the industry’s wage bill.
  • Re-floating machines ready for customers has taken around £100 million out of the industry’s cash reserves.
  • As a result of the Government’s decision to now not permit AGCs to open on Monday we are expecting redundancies running into the thousands.
  • The impact on the supply chain is equally as serious.  Companies supporting the AGC sector, eg manufacturers which service customers products, engineers, etc have also been taken off of furlough ready to go.
  • Our front-line staff are predominantly female, many on part-time contracts and on minimum/living wage.
  • The Sector employs in total circa 15,000 people and generates around £400 million contributing on standard multipliers nearly £500 million to the UK economy

 

  • It is a simple matter of using Gambling Act definitions to make the distinction between AGCs and FECs as the term ‘amusement arcades’ used in Schedule 2 of the Coronovirus Act is imprecise.  Delete the Term and insert FECs so they remain closed and AGCs can then open.

 

(image: Boris Johnson in Parliament on Wednesday – copyright UK Parliament_Jessica Taylor)


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