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Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, 20:23 GMT
UK gambling laws relaxed
Artist's impression of planned casino
New casinos could change the Blackpool waterfront
The biggest shake-up of the UK's gambling laws for more than 30 years has been unveiled, paving the way for Las Vegas-style casino resorts in holiday towns like Blackpool.

Tight regulations imposed on gaming in the 1960s prompted by concern about gangster involvement are to be scrapped or significantly relaxed.

It will be easier for casinos to be opened and gambling clubs will be allowed to offer a wider range of games, with unlimited jackpot prizes.

Gambling review
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
Casinos will be able to offer live entertainment and serve alcohol on the gaming floor.

Ministers say they want to revolutionise the industry and make it more "mainstream".

The changes will also affect online gambling, with licensing introduced for the first time.

A Gambling Commission will be set up, with tough powers to oversee the whole of the industry and enforce a new code of conduct.

Unveiling the White Paper, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said modernisation of gambling laws was long overdue.

More profits

"We want gambling to be safe, not only for those who take part in it, but also in the way that it impacts on wider society," she said.

Ms Jowell predicted that the changes would boost the industry's profits by around 500m a year.

Blackpool, the UK's biggest seaside resort, is already planning to take advantage of the changes.

Casino gambling
New gaming laws will be controversial
Critics say the increased availability of gambling opportunities and the relaxation of casino membership rules will lead to more addiction.

But Penny Cobham, the chairman of the British Casino Association, insisted that the proportion of people with gambling problems was "very small" and that there would always be safety nets for the vulnerable.

"What we are looking at is bringing the gambling laws up-to-date - the existing law is from 1968 when man hadn't even landed on the moon," she told BBC News Online.

Changes attacked

Dr Emmanuel Moran, adviser on gambling to the Royal College of Psychiatrist warned that the proposals amounted to a "gambling promoter's charter".

He said: "The new proposals favour economic and commercial consideration at the expense of important social ones.

"They will undermine any attempt to encourage moderate gambling and will inevitably result in increased casualties."


It's about time we enjoyed ourselves
Lee A, UK

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Methodist spokeswoman Rachel Lampard said any change to gambling laws should be introduced gradually with the industry taking "greater social responsibility".

A spokesman for the Evangelical Alliance said that far from a relaxation of rules, gambling should be "brought under stricter controls".

Some of Blackpool's business leaders believe changes in the gambling industry are its best hope of remaining Britain's premier coastal resort.

But there are fears that de-regulation will mean that small businesses such as amusement arcades will lose out to giant complexes.

Alan Cavill, from the Blackpool Challenge Partnership which oversees new developments, told BBC News he wanted "a new dimension to Blackpool - but not a change to its spirit".

"The gambling and gaming in Las Vegas is all-pervading - we do not want to see that here in Blackpool," he said.

Referendum?

Blackpool Seasonal Traders Association chairman David Gee is calling for a referendum on the issue.

He told the BBC: "At all the other tourist areas around the world that have deregulated gaming and embrace resort-casino hotels, such as Atlantic City and Las Vegas, we have seen a cannibalisation of small businesses."

Leisure Parcs is one of the companies hoping to be involved in Blackpool's re-development.

Managing director Mark Etches told BBC News it could double the number of businesses in the town - but there would be "no future" for small hotels that did not open out of season.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jeff Randall
"Betting is no longer a business the government wants to discourage"
Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell
"These proposals have been extensively discussed"
Alan Cavill, Blackpool Challenge Partnership
"What we want is... a new dimension for Blackpool, not a change to its spirit"
See also:

26 Mar 02 | England
Blackpool's casino dilemma
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
26 Mar 02 | UK
Blackpool: Bank or bust?
26 Mar 02 | UK
'Why I escaped gambling'
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