the gambling bill


The government is pushing its Gambling Bill through Parliament, and aims to make it law before next year's general election. The bill will open the floodgates and make Britain easy pickings for the world's casino operators — and reported cabinet splits over the bill are still only at the level of scale: a big expansion of casinos, or a massive one?

The bill paves the way for hundreds more massive casinos, open 24 hours a day, offering much larger cash payouts. US companies, such as MGM and Caesar's Palace have plans to move in, and will be free to offer local councils an annual percentage of their profits, in return for planning permission. This would severely impair councils' impartiality, and open the door wide to corruption.

Former welfare minister Frank Field has warned there would be "no turning back" once the door had been opened to such operators. But some in government appear to have been taken in already. Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said, "Levels of problem gambling are low in Britain and I am totally committed to keeping it that way. That's why the bill is so important." She said the legislation was about "new protections, not new casinos".

But in the real world, Britain has the world's third biggest gambling problem, after Australia and the USA. We have recently seen a huge increase in gambling, due to the National Lottery and internet betting games.

In Australia gambling deregulation in the 1990s has led to 2% of the adult population, 330,000 people, becoming problem gamblers (defined as those with a habit costing them more than 4,800 a year). This has caused rises in bankruptcies, thefts and frauds.

In the USA there are an estimated four million problem gamblers, and its citizens lose in excess of $50 billion in legal betting. Those who can least afford it, lose the most, so it's no surprise that Labour wants to increase gambling here - it's a great way to redistribute money from the poor and give it to the rich.

The British people have a far better attitude than Labour: a recent NOP poll showed that 93% of us thought that there were already quite enough places to gamble. But the crooks who run the US casinos are laughing all the way to the bank. They must see this Labour govern-ment as the softest touch in history, or easily bought.

Meanwhile, The Times revealed on 16 October that 14 of the 16 members of the parliamentary committee that scrutinised the Gambling Bill have links to the betting industry. One of them, Lord Donoghue, forced under Westminster rules to declare it, made public that he holds shares in the casino firm Stanley Leisure - which is planning to build a 125 million casino in Leeds. But, said the newspaper, he did not reveal — because the rules do not require it — that his son is chief executive of a lobby group called The Gambling Consultancy.

According to its website, this outfit promises: "An intimate involvement in the whole deregulation process and debate and a detailed knowledge of parliamentary and local authority process enable us to effectively lobby government...deep contacts into the parliamentary and civil service community...makes us an effective conduit for influencing the political age