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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November, 2004, 08:28 GMT
MPs back gambling laws shake-up
Las Vegas
Critics fear the changes could produce a rise in problem gambling
A backbench rebellion against plans to overhaul the laws governing gambling has failed but the government had a much reduced majority.

MPs approved by 286 votes to 212 the second reading of the Gambling Bill, which tightens regulation but allows for super casinos to be opened.

Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said her plans to overhaul the laws would protect the "weak and the vulnerable".

But 29 Labour MPs still voted against with about a dozen more not voting.

Along with opposition MPs, they fear a rise in gambling addiction.

They say the changes will open the doors for a large number of super casinos to open in UK towns and cities with unlimited payouts.

We want to see fewer of these casinos, located further away from centres of population, and fewer of the category A machines
John Whittingdale

Ms Jowell insisted the shake-up would give Britain the world's toughest regulatory regime but she acknowledged feelings were "running high" over plans.

She told MPs she was surprised at the "level of fury" her Bill had prompted.

But she stressed the plans would also ensure the removal of slot machines from places where children could get access to them.

She also argued problem gambling would increase if laws were not overhauled.

'Concessions'

But Ms Jowell said, as she introduced the Bill at its second Commons reading, she was prepared to consider MPs' constructive suggestions for changes to the planned overhaul of gambling laws.

She also offered two concessions to try to appease her critics.

Local councils could be obliged to consult people on whether they wanted a so-called "super-casino" in their area.

GAMBLING BILL
Slot machines at a casino
Casinos open 24 hours
Immediate access for public, no 24-hour joining period
Unlimited jackpots in largest casinos
Betting allowed on Good Friday and Christmas Day
A new criminal offence of inviting, permitting or causing a child to gamble
Compulsory age checks by gambling websites operating from the UK
Mystery shopper surveys by the Gambling Commission to check rules followed
Tighter restrictions on betting exchanges
Allowing casinos to advertise for first time

Action would be taken to prevent casinos getting planning permission "through the back door" by closing a loophole in planning rules.

Ms Jowell also promised more research on addiction before the Bill becomes law, but said there would be no cap on the number of new casinos.

Despite her assurances Conservative spokesman John Whittingdale argued: "What the government is proposing to do is introduce a kind of casino never before seen in this country.

"Their proposals open the door to a very large number coming into the hearts of our towns and cities."

He said that although the government claimed only 40 casinos would result from the legislation, no limits on the numbers were set in the legislation.

Addiction fears

He wanted ministers to curb the number of unlimited payout category A machines - those with unlimited prize and stakes. Under proposed rules up to 1,250 would be allowed in each casino.

The Liberal Democrats said it was "positive" that Ms Jowell was prepared to make concessions.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I am not sure if this is about changing the current laws or about generating more tax revenue
David, Germany, ex UK

But the party was planning to vote against the plans because it did not control the introduction of super-casinos, Culture spokesman Don Foster said.

Labour MP Stephen Pound was among the 11 backbenchers who signed a Commons motion calling for changes to the bill.

He called the plans a "money-making machine" that would "lure people in".

Former Labour health secretary Frank Dobson said the plans went "contrary to the party's normal, slightly paternalist, slightly puritan image" and were bad for hard-working families.

"There's no public demand for it and it's coming from American gambling companies," he said.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
MPs vote in favour of controversial gambling reforms




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Guardian Unlimited Labour MPs reject casinos - 10 hrs ago
Reuters UK Gambling Bill over first hurdle - 20 hrs ago
Sky News Commons Rebellion Over Gambling Bill - 21 hrs ago
Independent Labour MPs vent their anger at gambling reforms by halving Government's majority - 25 hrs ago
TelegraphMajor rebellion on gambling - 25 hrs ago
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