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Gambling Act 2005 (Amendment)

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 17 October 2006

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Gambling Act 2005 to allow for increased provision of casinos; and for connected purposes.

The Bill’s objectives are to amend the Gambling Act 2005 to allow a minimum of eight regional casinos, with the onus on the regeneration of key cities, as initially proposed by the Government. After the Act’s consideration in Committee, the Government introduced new clauses to set limits on the number of casinos. At that point, the number of regional casinos was set at eight, but as the Government faced opposition, that number was reduced to one. As a result, the national potential for jobs and investment will not be fully achieved.

The failure to recognise that loss of potential investment could result in the loss of about 22,000 possible jobs and an additional 17,000 support jobs. In total, the opportunity for 40,000 new jobs could have been lost, not to mention reductions in investment. The failure to support all the main regeneration schemes will have a negative effect and may put back regeneration programmes by about a decade. In total, the UK could lose the potential for more than £5 billion in investment, particularly in deprived areas.

In terms of protective legislation, the Secretary of State has addressed concerns regarding habitual gambling, stating that she does not think that casinos would increase problem gambling, and that she would prefer to close them if they did. In advance of the implementation of the relevant provisions of the Gambling Act 2005, and every two or three years thereafter, the Government intend to fund a national study that will measure the impact that any new casinos have on the surrounding areas and the issue of problem gambling. In addition, provision has been made in the Act to establish the Responsibility in Gambling Trust. The trust has been established on a voluntary basis to provide funding to support problem gamblers and their dependants.

The casino advisory panel’s criteria, as laid down by the Secretary of State, were to ensure that location satisfies need, for there to be the best possible test of social impact to include areas of need and regeneration, for consideration to be given to areas that are likely to benefit in those terms from a new casino, and to ensure that the areas selected were willing to license a new casino. The panel condensed the applications down to a shortlist of eight. On the shortlist were Blackpool, Wembley, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. I believe that the Government should increase the numbers of casinos, as the decision that has been taken is not based on the best interests of areas that are in dire need.

Local authorities should not be fighting each other over restricted resources. Rather, the Government should allow a fair system of opportunity, and allow more than one area of need to benefit from regeneration, investment and jobs. The Government have hinted that legislation could be revisited, and that the permissible number of regional casino licences could be increased, given sufficient support from local authorities, MPs and the public. It should be remembered that the Government expect that a regional casino will be a major development, offering clear potential for regeneration, and providing not only a range of gambling activities, but also perhaps including hotel accommodation, conference facilities, restaurants, areas for live entertainment and other leisure attractions.

There is already a casino in Coventry that would meet the criteria, should the Government be willing to increase the numbers. In contrast to many other proposals, Coventry’s submission was based on an extensive independent assessment. Therefore, I propose that an amendment be made to the Act, increasing the number of regional casinos from one to a minimum of eight.

I rise to speak against the desire of the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Mr. Cunningham) for there to be an amendment to this gambling legislation. I do so despite the fact that I have a great deal of respect for the hon. Gentleman, who is a neighbour and colleague in the west midlands, as I believe that he is profoundly wrong to think that his constituency would benefit from such a development. If I may say so to the hon. Gentleman, I also think that he is being used somewhat as a stalking horse by his Government, to test opinion in the House on whether there is an appetite to change what was set out by the Gambling Act 2005. The simple fact is that it is not necessary to have this proposed legislation, because the relevant provisions in the Act can be changed by statutory instrument, subject to a vote by all Members.

It might be helpful if I remind the House about how we got the Gambling Act 2005. When the Government introduced the original Bill, they intended to have a free-for-all on the development of casinos across the country, subject to demand as the operators saw that. As time passed, and as Members spoke out, along with other sections of society—including the Daily Mail, the Minister for Sport might be fond of remembering—it became clear that it would not be acceptable to have a major extension of such Las Vegas-style casinos across the United Kingdom. Given that a general election was imminent, the Government agreed to the idea that there should be only one regional casino, eight large casinos and eight small casinos, and that that would be the way that the measures would be proceeded with, unless the House decided otherwise through a statutory instrument such as that which I mentioned.

The Minister for Sport, who is in the Chamber, might remember that my hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Mr. Swire) asked him about the matter during Question Time just a week or so ago. The Minister said:

“The Conservatives decided to come back with the proposal of one regional casino, which we accepted because we wanted to get the Bill on to the statute book in order to protect the vulnerable in our society. That is where it now stops—at one regional casino—unless the hon. Gentleman says to the Government that the Conservatives want to change the proposal.”—[Official Report, 9 October 2006; Vol. 450, c. 11.]

I applaud the Minister’s remark to my hon. Friend, but although that represents the public face of the Government, their private face appears to be somewhat different. I suspect that the Secretary of State is much keener on a bigger free-for-all in casino development than the Minister is, at least in public. Following a meeting that took place between the Secretary of State and Coventry Members to petition her about a casino in Coventry, the hon. Member for Coventry, North-West (Mr. Robinson) wrote on his website:

“It was a very positive meeting. She invited us to submit early day motions and a ten-minute bill asking for Coventry to be included on the shortlist, and also to get the Government to increase the number of super casino licences from one to eight.”

I, and other Conservative Members, reject wholesale the private view that the Government have expressed to Labour Members.

Of course, the Government would like the number of such casinos to be increased from one to eight, because they face the political problem of who the one licence should be given to. Technically, that should be a matter for the casino advisory panel, but we all know that Ministers have views on the issue.

I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker.

We found out that the Government had views on who they would like the licence to be awarded to when we heard about the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to a ranch in Colorado owned by Mr. Philip Anschutz, who also happens to own the dome. Mr. Anschutz is determined to get a regional casino licence for the dome, but were such a licence to be granted, the Government would face the huge embarrassment of having to tell everyone else in the country that the development attached to that licence—such as it is—had gone to the most prosperous part of the United Kingdom, rather than another area.

I hope that the casino advisory panel—and the Government, for that matter—will give the one licence available to Blackpool. That would allow Blackpool to revive its tourism and enjoy the regeneration attached to the proposals that was described by the hon. Member for Coventry, South. The best case that has been put forward is for such a development to be in the Blackpool area.

I should warn the people of the Blackpool area that such a casino would involve significant moral hazards. One of the arguments that is often cited about the development of casinos is that we have insufficient exciting opportunities for betting and gaming in the United Kingdom today. I profoundly refute such a suggestion because there are ample opportunities for betting. We can bet at the races, in betting shops and on the internet. We can bet on national savings bonds, if we want to buy some. We can bet on the lottery. We can win more money than we ever thought that we would have, and lose more money than we would hope to do, by participating in activities that are available in the United Kingdom today. We do not need Las Vegas-style betting casinos, which offer a profoundly different form of gambling and are almost certainly bound to lead to a big increase in addictive gambling in the United Kingdom.

Hon. Members who have not seen such casinos should visit one for themselves. They are made up of huge complexes in which sheds upon sheds are filled with gaming machines. People put their coins in those machines and pull the levers in the hope that they will win the jackpot prize.

The machines are deliberately designed to encourage the player to believe that one more pull of the lever will win them the jackpot, but the owners of the machines have programmed them to pay out exactly the amount that the operator is prepared to lose. No gaming is involved; the machines are simply for money-making.

Gaming machines pose a significant moral hazard for our fellow countrymen, as was shown in the recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by Greenwich council to assess the implications of such developments in the Greenwich area. The report was leaked to the Evening Standard but it has not yet been published, because of its explosive contents. We are led to believe, however, that the report notes that groups such as young people, the poorly educated, pensioners and people who play on slot machines are at high risk and more likely to become addicts. I cannot believe that Labour Members are keen to see that happen in their constituencies.

The social costs of such developments include bankruptcy, suicide, illness and crime, which can involve money acquired from family, friends and employers under false pretences. Those are the moral hazards of the casino industry and the Government were right to proceed on the basis of a pilot project, by offering only one regional licence. It is right and proper that we assess the impact of that project before we proceed with a roll-out across the United Kingdom, whether it involves one, eight or 100 new casinos. We want to know about the implications before we go ahead with such a worrying social development, so I oppose the Bill.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):—