Recovery Stage of the UK Gambling Market

Poker fans tend to also dabble in other forms of gambling, and this is especially the case in the UK

With every business from the local shop to (multi)national companies and industries putting their case forward for more favourable conditions ahead of the Budget, the gambling industry is no different, and there could be a lot riding on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak’s words as far as UK punters are concerned.

Last Friday, Michael Dugher, the Betting and Gaming (BGC) Chief Executive wrote to Sunak in a bid to see an extension of business rates relief for key sectors of the industry. This comes after a ‘torrid year’ in 2020, which might have seen a boom in the online poker sector, which continues to enjoy the benefits as we settle in to 2021, but had a less positive effect overall, with total gross gambling yield falling by £1.6 billion.

Given the UK government’s current review of the 2005 Gambling Act, the BGC has called for ‘a period of stability and certainty.’ Significantly, even before the Chancellor reveals measures in Wednesday’s budget to combat the massive impact thus far from COVID on the UK economy, he has already been busy addressing issues regarding the country’s gambling industry. Notably, the government has announced that all non-essential services – including high street betting shops – will receive ‘recovery grants’ of £6,000 per site because these businesses will remain closed for a longer period under the UK’s lockdown exit roadmap.

As businesses begin to both open up and subsequently seek a gradual return to at least a semblance of normalcy, poker players might dare entertain the prospect of actually sitting at a table in a casino with their fellow players. Festivals and tours might take a while to return – due to both the scale of such operations and the risk that lockdown could restart at any time – but that doesn’t necessarily preclude poker being made available in some form during 2021.

Much, then, rests on how much support is afforded the gambling industry by the government. In a letter to the Chancellor, BGC Chief Executive, Michael Dugher, remarked: “By any measure, the betting and gaming industry is an important contributor to Britain’s economy. It is our hope that the forthcoming Budget will be a springboard to recovery as the country begins to emerge from the COVID-19, unlocking the potential of our high street businesses to return to growth and job creation.”

To this end, Dugher’s five-point plan for industry recovery calls for a year’s extension of business relief rates that would ease the pressure on casinos, as well as an end to the 10pm curfew once casinos reopen on May 17.

Of course, every industry has similar requests, and the Chancellor has countless interests to address and industry bosses to appease, but there’s no doubt that the gambling sector in the UK is both a major contributor in terms of tax and a key employer.

Indeed, the BGC has pointed out that the gambling industry ‘is eager to play its part in the recovery,’ with 100,000 people being employed, £4.5 billion being contributed in taxes and £7.7 billion pumped into the UK economy.

It’s not unreasonable, then, to state that because the UK gambling is in need of ‘a period of stability and certainty’ the Treasury should be wary of making any tax increases in the sector as a means of ‘plugging COVID holes’…

One factor that might come into play is that the Chancellor serves as the MP for Catterick Racecourse and thus has a direct connection to the gambling industry literally in his own constituency.

Hopefully there will be enough appreciation of the contribution made by UK punters to the economy when whatever adjustments and plans are announced in the Budget, and we can continue enjoying in the UK what is arguably the healthiest gambling environment there is.

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