David Williams, director of public affairs at Rank Group, has stated that UK casino reforms are needed now more than ever.
Speaking on behalf of the Betting and Gaming Council, he said: “Casinos across the land are chock-full to the brim with tinsel, baubles and bonhomie at this time of year and teams in our venues are pulling out all the stops to give their customers a fabulous festive experience.
“It’s not only the most wonderful time of the year, it’s the busiest too and we love it. The same was true 12 months ago of course, but much has changed since then, most obviously the publication of the gGovernment’s white paper in late April.
“The public policies contained in the long-awaited white paper established the ‘what’. It was backed up with the rationale which answered the ‘why’.
“Over summer, the first consultations were launched with a view to clarifying the ‘how’. But the big question is ‘when’. When will these policies be delivered? When will the critical modernisations that are needed by the casino sector land in our clubs?
“The casino industry can be absolutely certain of the timing of a number of changes rattling down the line in 2024: in April, the 9.8 per cent increase in the National Living Wage will land.
“For land-based businesses like ours, people are, quite rightly, the biggest and most important cost line in our business. That is exactly how it should be and our brilliant colleagues in our clubs are what make the difference and they are why our customers continue to keep coming back.
“Even so, the National Living Wage increase will come at a cost of almost £10m to the Rank Group (both our Grosvenor casinos and Mecca bingo clubs) on an annualised basis.
“In context, our most recent full year results (to June 2023) saw the group make a like-for-like trading EBIT of just £20.3m and a statutory loss after balance sheet write-downs and venue closure costs of £95.3m. When costs increase, we feel it harder than most.
“A statutory Levy is coming our way. Casinos will, over the next three to four years, find themselves paying 300 per cent more towards research, prevention and treatment of gambling-related harms.
“We recognise the arguments in favour of elevated payment levels, notwithstanding some reservations about how the money will be put to use.
“We can layer on top of these cost increases the disappointment felt by casinos in the recent Autumn Statement when the Chancellor chose to freeze casino duty bands rather than moving them in line with inflation.
“The Treasury’s numbers point to a £5m benefit to the Exchequer. At the same time, fragile consumer confidence and wider inflationary pressures all combine to impact casinos as we look ahead to the new year.
In many businesses, these costs would simply be passed to the consumer in terms of higher prices. Casinos can’t do that. We can’t sell a £10 chip for £11.20.
“The key mitigation that we have against these pressures is the delivery of the public policies in the white paper, some of which will really make a positive difference.
“At the top of the tree is the long-overdue change to gaming machine allocations. Casinos will also be able to offer sports betting, while electronic payment methods (rather than the current over-reliance on cash in our clubs) will help to give customers a more contemporary casino experience and one which is the norm almost everywhere else in the world.
“These improvements cannot come a moment too soon and it is precisely why the industry is urging the government to keep its foot to the floor in delivering their response to the land-based consultation, laying the necessary statutory instruments and getting the legislation delivered in the first half of 2024. It all takes time, and while timing is everything, we are not blessed with time on our side.
“We are playing catch-up with casinos elsewhere in the world and much of the wider gambling ecosystem here in the UK. Only when the legislation is delivered can we set about making our casinos more modern and appealing.
“With timing comes sequencing. We simply cannot withstand the cost increases that are all but certain without knowing when the promised modernisations are going to land.
“In short, we need the modernisations which will help to drive revenue which will help us to absorb the costs. That’s the only sequence of events that works.
“As we reflect on a busy 2023, we lean into the first half of 2024 knowing that it’s likely to be even busier. By the summer, providing the government delivers the casino-modernising policies that were so long in the making, it will have been worth the wait.”