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Sunday, 17 March, 2002, 05:12 GMT
Concern over gambling shake-up
Bingo clubs want to stay separate from casinos
Concerns about mixing "soft" and "hard" gambling
Changes to Britain's gaming laws could tempt people into problem gambling and force many bingo clubs out of business, the bingo industry has warned.

The government is preparing new legislation after considering a report from the Gaming Review Body, which recommended deregulation.

Casino gambling
New gaming laws will be controversial
Among the report's recommendations were allowing clubs to mix "hard" gaming - like casino games - with "soft" gaming, like bingo.

But bingo club owners fear a shake-up could threaten their future and are further warning that bingo would be used to tempt punters into "problem gambling".

The Gaming Review Body, chaired by the former Treasury economist Sir Alan Budd, also proposed all-night betting with alcohol and live entertainment.

It also advocated ending restrictions which force people to apply for membership of bingo halls and casinos 24 hours before they can play.

But Sir Peter Fry, the chairman of the Bingo Association, said: "Bingo will simply become a loss-leading product, used by casinos to tempt bingo players into playing harder forms of gambling.

Closures

"Overall revenues to the government might increase marginally as a result of shifting spending between gaming activities but at the cost of significantly higher levels of problem gambling and the loss of bingo."


Budd's recommendations represent a sea-change in gaming policy and could be extremely damaging to the licensed bingo sector

Sir Peter Fry
Bingo Association
Sir Peter said he was not opposed to casinos, but warned that bingo clubs formed part of the social fabric of communities.

They were already under pressure from high taxes and competition from the National Lottery and scratchcards, he said.

He disputed the report's conclusion that bingo club numbers would not be affected.

"In practice, it is far more likely that existing bingo club premises will convert to casinos with a large number of stand-alone clubs closing as a result."

Sir Peter also warned that bingo players may be alienated by the harder gaming atmosphere.

And repercussions for bingo clubs could affect the Exchequer.

The Department of Culture, Media and Sport said it could not comment on the claims before the White Paper was published.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane Warr
"The government is keen to bring gambling laws up to date"
See also:

01 Mar 02 | Business
Gambling protects Rank's profits
26 Feb 02 | England
Bishop dices with casino future
04 Oct 01 | England
Blackpool's 'Vegas' aim derided
25 Feb 02 | Business
Internet gambling hots up
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