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Kevin Smith

UK Policymakers Express Concerns over Gambling Bil

27 October 2004

A few weeks ago it looked like only formalities stood in the way of a plan to overhaul England's gambling laws. But now, just days after the publishing of the full U.K. Gambling Bill, MPs from all parties are voicing concerns.

The key issue is the number of larger Las Vegas-style casinos that would be allowed under the new bill.

Two amendments to the bill, one tabled by the Conservatives and one by the Liberal Democrats, call for the minimum size of new casinos to be bigger and demand adequate powers for local authorities to reject new applications.

The Gambling Bill is scheduled for a second reading on Monday, and both parties have threatened to vote against the bill in the Commons next week if the changes aren't made to restrict the number of big casinos in England

The strongest opposition is coming from the Conservatives, who have generally supported the bill but are pushing for safeguards that would prevent a proliferation of big city-center casinos. The party is also worried that the bill will benefit overseas companies to the detriment of British gambling operators and damage the National Lottery.

Concerns among the Labour party about social and moral issues could create problems as well, although Labour officials said they will work hard over the weekend to secure concessions and ensure that the bill has a chance of passing the Commons.

The main concerns in this area are the possibility of organized crime taking over casino operations in England and the perception of the gambling industry becoming a major influencing factor on British politics. Labour MP David Winnick addressed these concerns during the Prime Minister's weekly question time in the House of Commons.

"The last thing we want," Winnick explained, "is a casino-type society.''

Prime Minister Tony Blair was quick to point out, however, that 90 percent of the provisions in the bill will force "better regulation'' and "restrict access'' to gaming to adults.

Blair said Tuesday that the government expects no more than 40 super-casinos to be built. He also said that local authorities would have the ability to turn down permission for such facilities.

The portion of the bill addressing "remote gambling operations" has generally been well supported.

John Whittingdale, the Conservatives' spokesman on gambling, said England's outdated laws need to be modified to factor in the growth of the interactive gambling industry.

"The laws on gambling need updating, particularly to address online gambling, which currently is completely unregulated,'' Whittingdale said.

With Labour controlling of two-thirds of the Commons, the Gambling Bill is expected to progress, but several concessions will likely be offered to defuse some of the major disputes.

UK Policymakers Express Concerns over Gambling Bil is republished from
Kevin Smith
Kevin Smith