Gambling chiefs pressed to pay up

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Restrictions on casinos would be lifted

Gambling chiefs should be forced to pay a levy to help groups working with addicts, a committee of MPs has recommended.

The cash would also be used to fund research into gambling addiction.

The committee is not wholly persuaded by the pious hope that all casinos will contribute if sufficient moral pressure can be put upon them

Culture Committee report

The Commons culture, media and sport committee has been investigating the government’s plans for a major shake-up of gambling laws, with many regulations set to be scrapped or relaxed.

The committee says a statutory levy on the gambling industry would ensure that cash is available to help gambling addicts.

It is estimated that between 275,000 and 370,000 people in the UK are problem gamblers.

‘Polluter pays’

The gambling industry has set up a voluntarily-funded trust to fund research and provide support for organisations such as GamCare and Gordon House, which help addicts.

Government’s gambling proposals

Casinos allowed to advertise

Members only rule scrapped

Bingo halls will offer rollover prizes

Online gambling allowed from UK bases

Children barred from slot machines with a stake over 10p

And the government has proposed that a statutory levy should only be introduced if the industry fails to raise enough cash for research and support.

But the committee said it prefers “the simple prescription of polluter pays”, adding: “It would be unhealthy for organisations like GamCare and Gordon House to depend on the generosity of the industry.”

Struggle

The report, released on Wednesday, says the trust’s budget of £800,000 this year is inadequate in the light of a target of £3m and warns: “Not enough appears to have been committed to tackle even the existing needs.”

The committee say they are concerned that “there may be a struggle to reach the target of £3m”.

The report adds: “The UFA committee is not wholly persuaded by the pious hope that all casinos will contribute if sufficient moral pressure can be put upon them.”

Profits

It also warns about “industry in-fighting” over contributions to the trust.

The MPs are concerned about ‘problem gambling’

The committee heard that GamCare – which can only afford to run two telephone helplines or fund the training of more counsellors – was unable to advertise its services for fear of being “swamped”.

The average family spends £3.50 a week on gambling, with operators making £7.2bn profits each year.

The committee was told that taxes on the industry, which employs more than 100,000 people in the UK, bring in £1.5bn a year.

The MPs say there is a “woeful” lack of information on the social effects of gambling when compared with other potentially harmful activities such as drinking and smoking.

Pressure

One change under the government’s plans would lift restrictions on casinos, with the north-west seaside town of Blackpool hoping the move could aid its regeneration plans with the creation of a Las Vegas-style strip of casinos.

We think it at best disingenuous to play down the evidence that, unsupervised, the presence of these machines does not pose a long-term danger to young children

Culture committee report

There has been pressure to allow Blackpool to have pilot status in the development of such resort hotels.

But the committee agrees with ministers that it would be wrong to allow pilot schemes and that decisions on such developments must be in the hands of developers and local authorities.

Blackpool council chief executive Steve Weaver said he was disappointed by the committee’s verdict.

He said: “We firmly believe that the regeneration from casino de-regulation that Blackpool needs, will not benefit the local community unless the government makes the additional changes we suggested in our evidence to the select committee.”

He said he remained hopeful that the government “will listen to the concerns of the people of Blackpool. ”

The MPs go on to say there is not enough evidence about children’s gambling to justify banning it altogether.

Code of practice

But the committee wants tougher regulations on the availability of gaming machines in non-gambling premises such as cafes, take aways and taxi cab offices.

The report says: “We think it at best disingenuous to play down the evidence that, unsupervised, the presence of these machines does not pose a long-term danger to young children.”

The MPs want to see a code of practice to protect children in pubs with gaming machines, such as a line on carpets to show where children are not allowed and signs on machines.

But the report says the committee is not convinced that the government’s changes will lead to a big increased interest in gambling.