Seaside amusements hit by government U-turn
PUBLISHED: 19:00 16 June 2020
Seaside leisure spots are crying foul after the government announced a list-minute U-turn over opening fruit and slot machines on June 15.
Mannings Amusements in Felixstowe and Clacton Pier in Essex were left dumbfounded by a Westminster decision last Friday to order Adult Gaming Centres (AGCs) to remain closed – despite telling operators they would open along with nonessential retail the night before.
As well as losing three weeks worth of revenue to betting shops, which can offer the same gaming machines and opened on Monday, the businesses have spent days and weeks preparing for their grand reopening.
Manning’s Amusements director Charlie Manning said: “Up until Thursday night we thought we would be open this week.
“We have been preparing by investing in PPE, we moved all our machines further apart and we had staff at one of the centres back so they could be trained.
“That might not have gone to waste but now we have to wait almost three more weeks, that’s three weeks the betting shops have got that we haven’t.
“AGCs are generally smaller businesses than the bookmakers, so you would have thought they would want us open sooner.”
“It’s quite hard to fathom why they made this decision.”
Why have AGCs been told to remain closed?
The centres were initially categorised as nonessential retail, but on June 12 the government reclassified them as ‘leisure facilities’, meaning they are expected to open later as part of the third phase of the plan to ease the lockdown.
Mr Manning added: “We were told that one of the concerns around AGCs was the increased dwell time of gamblers using the machines and that it carried an increased risk indoors.
“But betting shops can offer the same games and machines as an AGC, but there’s also live sport that people will watch all day, they will go up to the counter, they might use the toilet. There’s surely a greater chance of cross-contamination that one person sat at one machine.”
When will the gaming centres open now?
AGCs are now expected to reopen on July 4, which will coincide with the opening of family amusements such as child-friendly arcades.
Clacton Pier director Billy Ball was appalled by the turnaround, which has forced him to keep the Pier Casino closed. He described it as an “outrageous” decision.
“We have followed the Government restrictions to the letter throughout this very challenging period,” he said.
“It is a bitter pill to swallow and will cost us and others in our industry many thousands of pounds at a time when we need some income.”
Clacton MP Giles Watling is one of several MPs petitioning Prime Minister Boris Johnson to allow AGCs to open earlier than July 4.
“As far as I am concerned, if betting shops and nonessential venues can reopen so should the AGCs,” he said.
“I will be keeping up the pressure in a bid to get this decision reversed.”
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