The Scottish Government gave separate consideration in its review this week to the case of AGCs, FECs, and machines in pubs and bookmakers. Instead of re-opening, they were given a door slammed in their face until 24 August. The industry is distraught.
At 13.23 on Thursday afternoon, Bacta was delivered a hammer blow from the Scottish government; the machines industry will not be able to open in Scotland for almost another month.
Conveying the news to members, John White, Bacta CEO, wrote: “It has been confirmed this lunchtime that amusement arcades will be able to open from 24th August. This indicative date, subject to review on the 20th, is a bitter blow to members in Scotland who have been ready to go ever since we were told that the 22nd July was stated as the original re-opening date.”
The trade association is not accepting the decision without a fight. White added: “I have today reached out to media contacts in Scotland to see if we can get the story into the public domain. Our key focus now has to be ensuring that the SG provides the support necessary for businesses to survive the winter.”
That will mean 22 weeks between lockdown and reopening; no income, rising bills, reducing benefits and a return to a summer that will, at best, muster 2-3 weeks of seasonal trading.
And caveats only pour misery on a meal of despair: the words “subject to review on the 20th” will leave a Scottish amusements industry literally on its knees, almost begging for the nod of approval to re-open.
The machines sector will remain constrained too. John White wrote: “The SG also stated that machines in pubs, bookmakers and other venues would still be advised against via the FAQ (circulated previously) that it has issued to the licensed trade.”
It’s been a frustrating process for the industry, and not a particularly successful one.
The Scottish government has been an instransigent, immovable object. Speaking earlier this week White noted: “Advice has been put up to Ministers and we are being separately considered as part of this week’s review.”
“The First Minister has been making statements all week that any further reopening of the economy is likely to be very limited whilst the focus is getting children back to school on 11 August.”
“We will continue to press and I would urge any members that have not yet done so to write to their MSPs as a matter of urgency.”
For AGCs and FECs, this latest announcement is devastating; for pubs and bookmakers waiting to turn back on the machine side of their businesses, it will be galling. John Heaton, owner of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest independent betting shop chain, feels the industry has been particularly targeted by the government’s actions.
“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,” he said.
Pubs are also suffering a similar fate, with confusion cast by the government’s guidance on non-machine pub entertainment, such as pool and darts. The government has advised against their use, but not restricted them from being played altogether, as is the case with machines. The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) said the restriction on machines was “very disappointing” and “has been one of the issues that has created some confusion around the reopening of pubs and bars”.