Chief Executive, Gambling Business Group
The 80/20 rule and social distancing
The impact of the 80/20 rule really depends on the individual venue; specifically, the venue shape and dimensions, available free space, machine layout and customer flows. For all 20 percent of current machines available to customers to be Cat B3 upon reopening, every machine in that venue needs to be switched on and available for use. This can then create a situation where it is possible for two adjacent machines to be played by two customers at less than 2m distance. In order to make this more manageable, it would be very helpful if some machines could be temporarily turned off or play prohibited with signage in order to deter players from breaking the 2m rule. If machines are turned off or sectioned off for the above reasons, they are technically no longer available for use – thus breaching the regulations. We don’t want to see anyone falling foul of their obligations to one set of (gambling) regulations in order to comply with others (Covid-19). What we would like to see is some recognition from the Gambling Commission that the definition of ‘available for use’ will be temporarily changed/relaxed to facilitate ‘social distancing’ – so long as it is a requirement. We only need the ability to be able to turn machines off whilst still remaining compliant. It’s not difficult for the Gambling Commission to appreciate or facilitate.
Cash is currently a fundamental requirement for premise based gambling. It doesn’t matter what measures are introduced now because it will take many months and considerable expense for the industry to react to the disappearance of cash. So, in the short term, operators are going to have to risk asses their cash operations and mitigate those areas that are identified as a problem for reopening. It is easy for those sectors who are not told via regulations that ‘you must use cash and cash only’ (other than eWallets) as they have been adapting slowly to cashless for some considerable time. The gambling industry has not had that luxury, so we can’t simply be lumped in with everyone else with the Government’s best intentions. It is highly unlikely, even in these pandemic times, that the regulator or ministers are going to recommend the use of debit cards direct with repeat play gambling products – other than the National
Lottery scratch cards of course. To facilitate eWallets on machines there is no regulatory change required and eWallets can provide account based play with all of the necessary gambling management tools. Although working solutions have been out there for some time now, the appetite from operators to pay for EFT transactions has not been there. The Covid-19 reopening requirements have somewhat forced that change in mindset, but the infrastructure is still not ready and the industry will need more time and investment. The time for eWallets is definitely coming, but not before the industry invests more capital and machine technologies are further adapted, let alone allowing for the adjustments the consumers need to make.
The changing face of the High Street
There are some favourable reports from operators in other jurisdictions that have reopened ahead of us. So, the landscape ahead of us is not clear. We have already seen that the general public are keen to be released from their confinement and this will hopefully be the same for our gambling customers too. The challenge for operators is to make their businesses viable whilst enforcing social distancing at 2m. The other big unknown is how the lockdown has affected our customer’s disposable income. The USP of out of home entertainment is social interaction. Social distancing is the antithesis of social interaction, therefore we need to see social distancing lifted as a requirement asap if we are going to get back to anything like normal demand. The sooner we stop social distancing, the sooner we can have our USP back.