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Gaming Guru

Arnold M. Knightly
 

Study: Gambling in check for British

17 September 2007

LONDON, England -- A gambling study will demonstrate the British casino industry has taken a proactive and socially responsible role in dealing with problem gambling, the new chief executive officer of London Clubs International said Friday.

The study by academics in the United Kingdom hopes to establish a baseline on the rate of gambling and problem gambling in the region.

John Bruns, the newly appointed CEO of London Clubs, believes gamblers know what they're doing.

"These players have means and they choose to game," Bruns said. "It's their form of entertainment. They are not at risk and they are not vulnerable."

The report by the independent Gambling Commission on the prevalence of gambling is due Wednesday.

Las Vegas-based Harrah's Entertainment paid $570 million for London Clubs in December, giving it six casinos in England, two in Egypt and one in South Africa.

Bruns, who joined Harrah's in 2000, replaced Bill Timmins, London Clubs' longtime chief executive officer, before the acquisition.

Bruns said the pending study could also help clarify what the government plans to do with future casinos.

An independent Casino Advisory Panel, formed after the Gambling Act passed in January, awarded the city of Manchester a "supercasino" with 1,250 slots. However, the House of Lords in March voted against the plan, simultaneously killing plans for 16 smaller casinos that would have been built around the United Kingdom.

Harrah's Entertainment, the only major Las Vegas-based operator in the region, MGM Mirage and Las Vegas Sands Corp. have all expressed interest in developing large casinos. Harrah's is developing clubs in Glasgow, Scotland, and the English cities of Manchester, Leeds and Blackpool, to accompany the recently opened Nottingham club.

Bruns assumed his position Sept. 1, coinciding with the opening of a new London Club in Nottingham.

The same day, the Gambling Act of 2005 took effect, replacing most of the region's gambling regulations, some of which were 160 years old.

Bruns said every day reveals more about the business and political climate in London.

"It's in transitional times right now," Bruns said. "We thought deregulation was going to provide a lot of things for the casino industry. It's turning out to be more like reregulation."

Adding to the uncertainty are questions about the government of Gordon Brown, who replaced Tony Blair as prime minister in June.

Gaming industry watchers wonder if the government will make sweeping changes to casino licensing laws before general elections are held in 2009 or 2010.

Bruns also said the company is in a "freeze mode" on the issue of open admissions, which was once expected to be lifted with deregulation. Players now have to show proof of their identity before they can gamble at a London Club.

However, the European Union expressed concerns about possible money laundering issues if the requirement is lifted.

Harrah's is awaiting clarification from the European Union before proceeding with open admissions.

"I can't think of more exciting times than now to be in London during this discovery stage," Bruns said. "The question is, 'What will the business environment look like going forward and how can we compete effectively within that market?' "

London Clubs in the U.K. are considerably smaller than casinos in Las Vegas and have licenses for 20 slots, 40 electronic roulette games and unlimited table games.