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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
Gambling rules 'to be relaxed'
South African casino
The proposals may recommend more help for gamblers
By the BBC's Media Correspondent, Torin Douglas

Proposals to relax many of the UK's restrictions on gambling are being published, in the first wide-ranging review of the industry for more than 30 years.

The move could pave the way for Las Vegas-style casinos offering betting and live entertainment under one roof.

The report - to the new Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell - is the work of a committee chaired by the former Treasury adviser Sir Alan Budd.

Already Blackpool is planning to take full advantage, with proposals to launch half a dozen casino hotels on its Golden Mile.

Casinos want to be able to meet their customers' wishes, as other entertainment outlets can

Lady Cobham
But churches and charities that help "problem gamblers" are wary. Some are downright critical of the proposals.

They say there must be greater protection for the vulnerable.

And the National Lottery operator Camelot fears that if the law becomes too liberal, the lottery could suffer, reducing the money it raises for good causes.

Britain's gambling laws have hardly changed in three decades, with one crucial exception - the launch of the lottery seven years ago.

Millionaire hopefuls

The gaming industry argues that is has changed the nation's attitude to gambling.

Millions of people play the lottery every day and the games are widely promoted in the media, without any sign - say the gaming companies - that it has led to a rampant gambling culture.

Blackpool business welcomes more relaxed rules
Yet casinos are permitted only in 53 specified parts of the UK, and they can't provide music or live entertainment, or serve alcohol at gaming tables.

Slot machines and bingo are also tightly curbed, and prize money and advertising strictly limited.

The chairman of the British Casino Association, Lady Cobham, says it's time they were brought into the 21st century.

"Casinos want to be able to meet their customers' wishes, as other entertainment outlets can," she says.

"At the moment they're not allowed to provide more than twelve slot machines, or any music at all, even on New Year's Eve."

'Social responsibility'

The report being released on Tuesday is expected to propose lifting many of these restrictions.

But it will also recommend greater help for problem gamblers and tougher controls on under-age gambling.

That may go some way to placating the churches, who demanded such "social responsibility" measures in a joint submission to the committee.

Rachel Lampard of the Methodist Church says: "If you de-regulate, you must also protect.

"And that means also protecting those people who don't want their local environment ruined by the arrival of a casino. The industry must be sensitive to local people's feelings."

Methodists in Blackpool have expressed concern about plans to launch half a dozen Las Vegas-style hotel casinos in the town, if the laws are changed.

But the proposals are supported by the local council. It hopes they could help regenerate business in the seaside town, attracting more tourists and making it more likely its seafront really could become the Golden Mile.

The BBC's Business Editor, Jeff Randall
"Some seaside resorts are already planning for a betting bonanza"
Mark Etches, MD of Leisure Parcs
"Our proposals are to turn Blackpool into a Las Vegas style resort"
Chief Executive of Stanley Leisure, Bob Wiper
"The gaming industry in the UK has been very heavily regulated"
Penny Cobham, British Casino's Association
and Rachel Lampard, Secretary for Parliamentary and Political affairs for the Methodist church
See also:

25 Feb 01 | Business
Seaside towns face decay
02 Apr 00 | Business
UK tourism looking for tips
05 Apr 00 | UK
Why 1m is not enough
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