Clause 1 - The licensing objectives

Part of Gambling Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 9th November 2004.

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Photo of Malcolm Moss Malcolm Moss Shadow Minister, Home Affairs 10:00 am, 9th November 2004

I would have thought so. A criminal record is a criminal record. We do not want people from abroad with criminal records coming to run our betting and gambling organisations. So, yes, the provision would be all-embracing. This is a probing amendment to discover whether the Government have considered that and whether in their view the wording in the Bill would cover that point.

Amendment No. 72 would insert the words ''socially responsible'' after the word ''fair'' in paragraph (b). At the heart of the Government's problems with the Bill is the fact that there is no control—or does not appear to be—over the number of larger or regional casinos that might develop. Numbers in the region of 20 to 40 have been bandied around at the top end. Forty regional casinos, each with a maximum of 1,250 category A machines, would mean that suddenly we could go from nothing to, potentially, 50,000 category A machines in casinos around the country.

To many people, that is a huge leap in the dark in the sense that there is little evidence to hand on the impact of the machines in this country and on problem gambling in particular. Some work has been done in Australia, but it is fairly threadbare at this point. The Government seem to expect Parliament and the electorate to embrace an idea of what might be described as proliferation. Mr. Haslam from Blackpool said that in his view that number of regional casinos and category A machines constituted ''proliferation''. If that goes ahead, the impact on local communities will be immense.

At the heart of the Government's problems is also the conflict between what they are saying on one hand about their desire for protection—the thrust of their comments so far has been that the Bill is all about regulation and protecting the vulnerable and children—and what they are saying on the other hand about not knowing how many regional casinos there might be and not really caring, because market forces will determine that.

The initial plan was that the regional planning bodies would decide where the casinos would go and local authorities would then take that on board. However, the numbers would not be constrained by any limit imposed by Government or in any other way. In the end, it would be those who wish to invest in such facilities who would decide whether the market would

stand 40 or 50 casinos, or whether there should be fewer than that.

The thrust on the planning side is to place the facilities where regeneration would be easy to obtain, and more obvious and measurable. That brings us into city centres and to run-down areas of our large conurbations. So, it is possible that casinos will be placed right in the heart of large populations of people. Of course, that is where the regional casino developers want them to be, so that there is the greatest market potential and the greatest access by the majority of people to their facility. Any business man in their position would think in exactly the same way. That would mean that the problems of convenience and of ambient gambling would raise their heads in a way that is different to anything that we have experienced in this country hitherto.