A Scotland-based bookmaker that was saved by the country’s administration a year ago has raised a red flag that the independent gambling sector is expected to face a tough winter without much-needed support from the Government.
The biggest independent bookmaker in Scotland – Scotbet – has called for some help from the country’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon after the local Government denied to provide support for the company in the form of business rates relief or small business grants. Scotbet’s operations have been shut for more than three months from the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown.
In July 2019, Scotbet was literally rescued by the local authorities after a management buy-out, with almost 130 staff members jobs and 30 betting outlets across the country being saved from closure. The bookmaker used to own a total of 75 betting shops in its best days on the market.
Now, the Chairman of the gambling company, John Heaton, who led the management buy-out, has addressed Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes asking for more help. He confirmed that the bookmaker was facing serious financial difficulties during the Covid-19 crisis and reminded that Scotbet was forced to shut its betting shops for more than three months after the Government imposed the coronavirus restrictions in March 2020.
Mr Heaton also reminded that at the time when the first lockdown took place, small businesses in the UK were promised support in the form of 12-month business rates relief and small business grants – some measures that helped many independent operators in England to remain in business.
Gambling Industry Nor Receiving Same Support as Other Economy Sectors, Scotbet Says
As Scotbet’s Chairman explained the bookmaker had so far received no help from the Scottish Government because independent betting shop chains were excluded from such financial benefits. The competent authorities, however, provided no reasoning for the exclusion so far. Furthermore, the company was now receiving court action warnings for its failure to pay rates for the period it was not allowed to operate its business because of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Mr Heaton explained that the largest independent bookmaker in Scotland is now facing an extremely challenging future, with its current revenue being considerably lower than the pre-lockdown levels. He also shared that Scotbet would not be the only company affected by the closures and highlighted the fact that the upcoming months could be crucial for the further survival of many independent bookmakers’ businesses. He asked the Government to be more supportive of the sector before it was too late for companies operating in the local gambling industry.
Miles Briggs, a Lothian MSP and representative of the Cross Party Group on Horseracing at the country’s Parliament said he was confused that the betting sector had not received the same support that had been given to businesses operating in other industries. According to him, such companies and the jobs they provide are no less valuable than the ones associated with other sectors of the economy. Mr Briggs reiterated his support for gambling operators and said he had written to the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture to ask why the authorities had not provided help in the sector.