Mark McCluskey has expressed major frustration at the Scottish government’s decision for casinos and bingo clubs to close in level two or above, under the proposed new five-tier lockdown rule system.
It comes after John O’Reilly, chief executive of the Maybury venue’s parent company Rank Group, wrote to the First Minister urging her to reconsider the move, saying that otherwise the firm was “highly likely” to see its entire Scottish estate shut down from November 2.
MSPs are today debating the new five-tier lockdown strategy in Holyrood.
Mr O’Reilly said that in Scotland, Rank is the biggest casino operator with its Grosvenor brand and also the biggest bingo operator, with Mecca. North of the Border the group has five casinos and 11 bingo halls, and has had no Covid-19 cases, with 30,000 visits to its Scots Grosvenor venues alone.
Mr McCluskey echoed Mr O’Reilly’s belief the decisions surrounding the latest categorisation were “anything but evidence-based”, with pubs, bars, cinemas, amusement arcades and restaurants being able to trade.
Rank has in its casinos invested in plexiglass to ensure customers can play safely, and in its bingo venues implemented one way-systems and seating plans to ensure two-metre-plus spacing.
Mr McCluskey said the Maybury had invested “easily” more than £100,000 in Covid-related measures, and was operating at about a quarter of its pre-Covid capacity of 900.
“It’s ultimately very frustrating, and there’s not really any evidence to support decisions to close casinos in Scotland - we do feel we are far and away the most secure Covid-environment in hospitality," he said.
He added the firm operated a strict “no ID, no entry” policy as well as other measures. Dealing with the government’s treatment of gambling venues “is really difficult when you take into account how much we’ve done and how much we’ve invested”, Mr McCluskey said.
Mr McCluskey also pointed out the Maybury – known for its Art Deco design – was serving as a social hub, with a slightly older demographic, most of whom are members.
It has a workforce of roughly 70, with reports of mental health issues due to, say, isolation amid lockdown. This is particularly acute for older men among the team, he added, for whom the casino is “pretty much all they have” socially.
He reiterated that of the licensed venue sector, “casinos are the most robust [venues] and I challenge anybody to come into this casino and tell me that they’ve experienced a more robust Covid-secure environment – there’s nothing like it out there, from what I’ve experienced”.
Mr O’Reilly said in his letter the casino and bingo sector can play a full part in Scotland’s economic recovery without jeopardising public health. “If, however, the framework is not revised, jobs will unquestionably be lost, communities damaged, tax revenues foregone, and this will have no impact whatsoever on the spread of the virus,” he said. “I urge you to reconsider.”