As of now, Monday 17th of May, we can once again meet indoors for more normal and regular pursuits.
The casinos and bingo halls have joined the betting shops in swinging open their doors once again as we creak out of the latest lockdown.
But for the Leisure industry, and more importantly for us, land-based bookmakers, casinos and bingo halls, social distancing rules will remain in place with masks being worn by law.
This, of course, is all part of the government’s latest removal of certain restrictions, referred to as phase three of its unlocking of the enforced restrictions that we have all been living under in recent times.
The government’s latest move comes in the face of concerns over a new Indian strain that, over the past week, has driven a rise in cases in parts of the UK and which experts warn could be the most virulent variant yet.
Of course, even with this information, we all, not least the operators, want these venues up and open as normal.
For us, these are services that we have enjoyed and taken for granted for most of our lives until early last year.
For the operating companies, they are hurting financially while shutdown with one independent bookmaker estimating that trade is down 50%, while casinos have also been suffering.
CEO of Rank Group, the owners of Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos, John O’Reilly said:
“Our business has inevitably been heavily impacted by the pandemic but, with the strong support and dedication of our colleagues, we are now very much looking forward to reopening our casino and bingo venues, welcoming back our customers and providing the great entertainment and omni-channel service in a Covid-safe environment we know they enjoy.”
Progression To Phase Three
The progression to phase three follows on from betting shops in England reopening last month, swiftly followed by bookmakers in Scotland and Wales doing the same.
Each of these venues had been closed right across the UK since Boris Johnson reluctantly announced a third national lockdown in January.
But, as of today, friends, family and punters in general can meet in casinos and bingo halls in groups of six from mixed households. This, in essence, is not all that different from how things were when we tried exiting a lockdown for the first time last year which now seems a very long time ago.
What Has Changed?
Well, for one thing, most of the UK adult population have now had at least one of two vaccination shots, so there is a growing, if possibly misguided, confidence that normality is right around the corner.
Either way, it surely cannot mean a complete relaxation in all restrictions as the government’s planned fourth phase, which goes live on the 21st of June next wave notwithstanding, has outlined.
According to phase four, all social distancing measures will be removed as if the last eighteen months never happened.
Over in Las Vegas, both the Wynn and Encore casinos have now removed their Perspex dividers and returned to 100% full capacity, while, wisely, mask measures will remain in place, although even that requirement may soon be dropped for anyone who has received both vaccinations.
Regulations Will Remain In Place
Here in the UK, bookies, bingo halls and casinos, all being inside venues, hopefully at least some of the currently enforced regulations will remain in place after phase four, although this may possibly be at the operator’s behest.
Face masks, for now, are still required as is the need to adhere to social distancing guidelines. These rules will apply to both customers as well as staff.
On the other hand, other restrictions on betting shops will now be ceased, such as the ban on showing live sports pictures on in store TV screens, meaning people can gather, albeit only if appropriately spaced out.
Chairs and tables, previously removed, will now be returned, while shops can now turn on more than one FOBT gaming machine having previously been limited to one at a time. Customers had also been limited to no more than two visits a day, both capped at 15 minutes, with shops closing at 20.00.
While the move to phase three will see most of those restrictions relaxed, the number of customers allowed in a shop at any one time will still be limited, while masks will also have to be worn. Come phase four, even this requirement may not be necessary.
Will Facemasks Still Be Mandatory After June 21?
Boris Johnson’s roadmap does not say, and in truth it would be smarter if he, despite clearly wanting to abandon 99% of all restrictions, was not to raise public hope as the virus clearly has a long way to go yet.
Will people still use casinos in the same way they did before? Long term, probably yes. It’s hard to say right now but casinos have addictive properties that online casinos cannot replace in the same way that mobile betting can substitute for its physical alternative.
As for Bingo halls, they have a social quality that ensures that regulars, including many senior citizens, will have been counting down the days until their local halls opened again.
In that sense, if there are restrictions to tolerate, then we just have to accept that right now.
The truth is that we are not yet ready to mingle without restrictions and regulations and they are a small price to pay for the little freedoms which we wish to enjoy.
We must proceed with extreme caution with the unlocking of each restriction and, while it is hard, patience is key, or another lockdown is certain, and all of our good work will be undone.