Major casino group urges Nicola Sturgeon to let venues stay open

The boss of Scotland’s biggest casino and bingo chain operator has issued an urgent plea to Nicola Sturgeon to rethink the closure of such venues under new lockdown restrictions – warning that thousands of jobs are at risk.

Measures taken by the group include installing plexiglass to ensure customers can play safely. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
Measures taken by the group include installing plexiglass to ensure customers can play safely. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

John O’Reilly is the chief executive of Rank Group, which is behind the Grosvenor and Mecca brands. North of the Border – where it has five casinos including the Maybury in Edinburgh, and 11 bingo halls – it has had no Covid-19 cases, with 30,000 visits to its Scots Grosvenor venues alone.

Mr O’Reilly in his letter expressed his “dismay” at the Scottish government’s categorisation that he said will force both casinos and bingo clubs to close in Level 2 or above, and is urging the First Minister to reconsider this decision imminently – otherwise the firm is “highly likely” to see its entire Scottish estate shut down from November 2.

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MSPs are today debating the new five-tier lockdown strategy in Holyrood.

'Very frustrating': Mark McCluskey, operations manager at the Maybury Casino in Edinburgh. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.
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Mr O’Reilly said the decisions surrounding this latest categorisation “are anything but evidence-based,” and come in contrast to pubs, bars, cinemas, amusement arcades and restaurants being able to trade.

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He blasted the sector’s “grossly unfair” treatment. “In our casinos we have invested in plexiglass to ensure customers can play safely. In our bingo venues we have one way-systems and seating plans which ensure two-metre-plus spacing.”

Additionally, Mark McCluskey, operations manager at the Maybury Casino, has highlighted major frustration at the Scottish government’s actions. He said the Maybury has invested “easily” more than £100,000 in Covid-related measures, and is currently operating at about a quarter of its pre-Covid capacity of 900.

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“It’s ultimately very frustrating… We do feel we are far and away the most secure Covid-environment in hospitality. I’ve never experienced a more robust environment [to prevent the spread of Covid] than I have seen in a casino,” he added, saying the firm operates a strict “no ID, no entry” policy as well as other measures.

Mr O’Reilly said in his letter to Sturgeon that bingo is “part of the fabric of Scottish culture” and a social lifeline. Mr McCluskey echoed this, saying closures take not only a severe financial toll on the firm but also on the mental health of both staff and customers.

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Maybury’s demographic is a slightly older crowd, most of whom are members – while there have been mental health issues among its 70 staff due to isolation. In the latter case, particularly with older men, the club is “pretty much all they have” socially.

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Mr O’Reilly added that throughout the pandemic, he and colleagues have “frequently” written to Scottish Government officials, informing them of the measures the group has put in place.

"I appreciate the Scottish government has difficult decisions to make and I have been steadfast in my refusal to criticise government decisions. If we are treated in line with other areas of hospitality, we will be able to protect jobs, safely give Scottish customers something to be cheerful about, and play a full part in Scotland’s economic recovery.”

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If not, “jobs will unquestionably be lost, communities damaged, tax revenues foregone, and this will have no impact whatsoever on the spread of the virus – I urge you to reconsider”.

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