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Seaside Amusement Arcades

Volume 475: debated on Monday 12 May 2008

5. What assessment he has made of the effects of the Gambling Act 2005 on seaside amusement arcades; and if he will make a statement. (204452)

I have received representations and held discussions with the relevant trade bodies on those issues. At their request, I will hear further evidence from them this afternoon.

I am pleased to hear that the Minister is speaking to the British Amusement Catering Trade Association later this afternoon. According to a survey that it recently conducted, amusement arcades have experienced an overall decline in revenue of 21 per cent. since the Gambling Act 2005 was implemented. The Minister has already acknowledged that there is a serious problem in the industry. Would he address the problem by increasing the number of class B3 machines permitted in amusement arcades, and by restoring the £2 stake for such machines?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue; it is a matter of concern to a number of people. The Government feel that it is important that we get things right. B3 machines are a hard form of gambling and on the numbers, we have to get the balance completely right and take the right decisions. We have listened to evidence from BACTA, the Bingo Association and a number of other gaming bodies who are having difficulties. I understand the urgency and immediacy of the problem, but I want to ensure that we get the right solution.

I do not think that it was the intention of the then Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), to damage the seaside industry when he took the Bill through Committee, but the fact is that the seaside amusement arcade is an integral part of the wet-weather offer that many seaside resorts, such as Margate and Herne Bay in my constituency, need. Amusement arcades are shutting as we speak. The industries that supply them, such as two manufacturing industries in Thanet—an area of high unemployment—are under severe threat. Does the Minister understand that unless he takes action now, this year, in time for this season, it will be too late?

I hope to make decisions reasonably soon—[Laughter.] Or, indeed, very soon. The hon. Gentleman has highlighted an issue, and there is some confusion that we need to clear up. We need to distinguish between seaside arcades that offer a lower risk of gambling and the adult gaming centres that are usually on the high street. The latter want more B3 machines and I am wrestling with the decision about whether that is appropriate. It is certainly not appropriate for seaside arcades.

May I echo the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) about the urgency of the issue? Many businesses in seaside towns throughout the country, especially in my constituency of Weston-super-Mare, are suffering huge problems, and swift action is vital.

I remind the Under-Secretary that one of the reasons for reducing gambling in the Gambling Act 2005 was to reduce the risk of gambling addiction while the new super-casinos were introduced. Does not the fact that the Government have backed away from them mean that it is easier for him to make his urgent decision?

I understand the urgency. The House of Lords will consider the casino regulations later this week. We are examining all the issues in the context of putting consumer protection at the heart of the 2005 Act. However, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to several other hon. Members, especially from seaside resorts, who know that the issue is pressing. I will try to reach a decision as soon as possible.

The Under-Secretary needs to make a decision. He has heard from absolutely everybody and he said on 17 January that he did not need to take more evidence because he had it all. Why cannot we now have a decision? Why is he being so tough on bingo associations and arcades and so lenient on fixed odds betting terminals and internet gambling? Let us have a decision—it is his to make, not the Treasury’s or anybody else’s. Let us support our seaside arcades and have a decision on the stakes and prizes today, not months and months later, while more and more important elements of our seaside tourism close.

Surely the hon. Gentleman wants me to meet BACTA, which I shall do this afternoon, and hear the further evidence that it wants to present to me. I am delighted to be able to hear that evidence. We will make the decision as soon as we can, provided that that is in the consumer’s interest.

The hon. Gentleman claims that we have taken a relaxed attitude to FOBTs, but we have not. We asked the Gambling Commission to consider FOBTS and BACTA’s concerns about people moving from adult gaming centres to the bookmakers. Clearly, the decision will be made as soon as we can, in the consumer’s interest.