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The industry has criticised an apparent u-turn from the Scottish government just days after restrictions on betting shops were lifted.

UK.- Bookmakers in Scotlands have reacted with dismay as the Scottish government has ordered betting shops to switch off gaming machines again, just days after lifting restrictions introduced when betting shops were allowed to reopen from lockdown on June 29.

At the start of the week, the Scottish government announced it was lifting restrictions that included the prohibition of gaming machines, seating and the screening of live racing in betting shops.

But in an apparent u-turn bookmakers have now been told customers must not be allowed to play on machines until further notice.

Betting shops in England re-opened on 15 June without such restrictions.

John Heaton, Chairman of Scotbet, Scotland’s largest independent chain of betting shops, said: “We’re now incurring all the cost of the in-shop product without the benefit of the machines. It’s the worst of all worlds.

“They seem determined to put as many betting shops out of business as they can, and it’s independent shops like ours that will suffer the most.”

He added: “We feel very frustrated that we haven’t had the financial support independent bookmakers in England and others in the betting and gaming sector here in Scotland have received.

“The sums involved are not material to the large bookmakers but, for us, it is about survival. The likely impact is that the independent sector will die and the big bookmakers carry on regardless, grateful that their independent competitors have been removed for them.”

Trade association the Betting and Gaming Council (BGC) has criticised the about-turn. It had campaigned to get the restrictions lifted, saying that turnover at Scottish betting shops was down by 95 per cent as a result.

The BGC has also called on the Scottish government to include the country’s 900 betting shops in a scheme that offers company’s 100 per cent business rate relief for a year to help them deal with the impact of Covid-19.

It said the exclusion of betting shops from the scheme was putting hundreds of jobs at risk.

Chairman Brigid Simmonds said: “We are extremely disappointed by the Scottish government’s decision, which directly contradicts what they told us previously.

“Betting shops in Scotland are already under severe financial strain because of the Scottish government’s refusal to give them 100 per cent business rate relief which is available to other retail businesses, and this is another massive blow.

“I would urge ministers in Scotland to urgently reconsider this baffling decision and revert to the position they had less than a week ago.”

The BGC says betting shops in Scotland employ around 4,500 people. South of the border, the government in London has included betting shops in its business rates relief scheme.

Scotland has also excluded betting shops from grant support, which is open to other operators in the gaming industry, such as bingo halls and entertainment centres.

BGC Chief Executive, Michael Dugher, said: “These businesses employ thousands of men and women across Scotland, and they deserve their government’s full support now that they are back at work. If they don’t get it, many will sadly lose their jobs as their shops are forced to close.

“The Scottish government needs to pull out all the stops to prevent that from happening and ensure betting shops can play their part in getting the economy back on its feet.”

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