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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 20:30 GMT
Gambling Bill 'may mean job cuts'
Gaming companies say new bill may harm business
New gambling regulations could force interactive and online operators to move off-shore, MPs have been warned.

One industry leader told them that the draft Gambling Bill introduced "costly and onerous" regulation that would harm the industry and cost jobs.

A more positive approach might attract companies now based off-shore bringing up to 3,000 new jobs, he said.

The new bill will create a single regulator, the Gambling Commission, to cover all aspects of the industry.

But interactive operators fear rules that work for brick-and-mortar casinos may harm online, mobile and interactive-TV gambling.

3,000-plus jobs

Bill Haygarth, of the Association of British Bookmakers, said: "There's nothing in the bill for the betting industry, apart from increased regulation and costs.

"Licenses would be needed for everything from large scale operators to backroom telephone betting businesses," he told a pre-legislative committee scrutinising the bill.

"That could lead to betting companies moving off-shore ... but if the government gets it right it could mean 3,000-plus jobs."

Andrew Tottenham, chair of the Interactive Gambling, Gaming and Betting Association, said Mr Haygarth's estimate for potential jobs might be too high.

"We're optimistic that companies will come to the UK, but ... jobs that would be brought here would be high-tech, high-skilled jobs," he said.

Call centres and other less skilled jobs would probably remain overseas, although the benefit to consumers would still be substantial.

Random numbers

"At the moment, the consumer doesn't care too much where the company is," Mr Tottenham said. "They'll use services based in Cuba, Panama, Curacao.

"It's only when they don't get paid that they start to worry about where it is."

If the UK was a more attractive business place, more companies would be under British regulation, protecting consumers from unscrupulous operators, he said.

Mr Tottenham also said better regulation was needed to ensure "random number" software [used to power chance-based games like roulette] was not biased against the consumer.

John Greenway MP
It would be hugely beneficial to have a single regulator, but it needs to be able to apply a suitable regulatory bite
John Greenway MP

Direct regulation was not practical, he said, due to the volume of code involved, but regulators should monitor companies' relations with software designers.

Conservative MP John Greenway, chairing the pre-legislative committee, told the BBC the issues were "unusually complex".

"It would be hugely beneficial to have a single regulator, but that single regulator needs to be able to apply a suitable regulatory bite," he said.

But he admitted he was "not sure" the committee would be able to suggest an effective single regulatory framework.

"There are differences of opinion in the trade," he said. "We'll do our best."

The full bill is expected to be published in April.

Vegas-style casinos on the cards
19 Nov 03  |  Politics
The gambling habits of Britons
24 Jul 02  |  UK News

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