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Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab): I am not much of a gambler. The last bet that I placed was on the outcome of the 1997 election—I like to bet on certainties. However, I am a trade unionist and I want to approach the debate from a slightly different angle: the perspective of the casino worker. I declare an interest as a member of the GMB, which supports my constituency party and is one of the main unions that organise casino workers in the United Kingdom. Currently, 90 per cent. of casino operators in the UK are trade union-organised.

In partnership with the Transport and General Workers Union, the GMB has formed an alliance with Unite Here, the United States trade union that organises casino workers on the other side of the pond. It has
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provided valuable advice and assistance to the UK unions in approaching the debate. It showed that casinos can be significant creators of new jobs. We are considering not only jobs at the gaming tables but a range of ancillary services, for example, in catering and hotels. Those staff and services make a wider contribution to the regional economy. That, however, depends very much on how the industry is regulated, and the approach to the work force. A good employer can create worthwhile careers and decent conditions for casino workers; a bad employer means exploitation, poverty wages and appalling working conditions.

That is illustrated by two examples from America. In Mississippi, the superficial reality is that when casinos were allowed tourism increased, as did tax revenues for local communities; unemployment declined, and there were more jobs. The real reality, though, is that the fastest-growing jobs were low-wage jobs; erratic and round-the-clock work schedules made child care difficult; and jobs were of poor quality, with unstable work loads, limited prospects for long-term stable employment, and little hope of career advancement.

Contrasting evidence comes from Atlantic City, about which we have heard a good deal in a different context. All 12 casinos there are union-organised. Between 1977 and 1996, the income of casino workers—cooks and housekeepers—increased by more than 100 per cent., compared with only 16 per cent. for similar workers in the state of New Jersey more generally.

I believe that companies with bad employment records should not be allowed to operate in the United Kingdom. An example is the Las Vegas Sands casino, whose chief executive is a man called Sheldon Adelson. I have seen a detailed briefing on his activities, provided by Unite Here's research department. It is pretty horrific. He has been described by the Las Vegas Review-Journal as

He has been involved in repeated conflicts with governmental and regulatory agencies. Earlier this year the Nevada Gaming Commission imposed a $1 million fine on the Venetian casino, which he owns, for rigging contests and violating other Nevada gaming regulations. He is in ongoing litigation with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over issues dating back to 1999. He is an extremely litigious individual. I suspect that the Government's triple-lock proposals would lead to a number of legal challenges and judicial reviews should he be allowed into the UK.

Mr. Adelson has come under fire over working conditions, for failing to remit proper back pay, and for attempting to have workers and their supporters arrested for protesting. He subcontracts a substantial number of jobs, with substandard wages and benefits. He uses his wealth to try to oust politicians who cross him—so I am probably on his hit list now, as some other Members may also be after tonight. He has repeatedly been characterised as difficult to work with, and as

That is the sort of person whom we could end up dealing with. We must ensure that such operators have no place in the UK's gaming industry.

The gambling commission must be required to take into account a casino operator's previous employment practices—overseas if necessary—when deciding on an
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application. I believe that there should be at least two employee representatives on the commission to represent the interests of the workers in the industry. An applicant should be required, in particular, to show that he has enhanced family-friendly policies to compensate for the unsocial hours that casino workers have to endure, and that he pays due consideration to the health and safety of staff—especially as casinos will no longer be "member only", and there could be much looser controls of customers and the risk of assaults by dissatisfied customers. There should be help with travel arrangements for those who must work late and antisocial hours; and there ought to be a smoke-free workplace for those who must work such long hours.

Operators should also be expected to provide decent careers and training opportunities. There are good examples of that in Las Vegas, where a scheme administered jointly by the union and casino operators has financed a job training school for catering workers. Some 2,500 students take advantage of the programme each year, and the number is expected to double over the next couple of years. That is a good example, but I think a training levy would be a more effective way of ensuring that those who work in casinos have proper career opportunities.

It is likely that national lottery income will fall if people use other forms of gambling. I think that casino operators should also be expected to replace any losses sustained by the lottery through a levy for a good causes scheme to support charities that might otherwise lose out.

I share many of the reservations that have been expressed about the expansion of the casino industry with the regional super-casinos. It is important that we consider the number of casinos that will allowed, but if, as I think is inevitable, there are more casinos, whether on a pilot scheme or regulated by legislation or the market, we must ensure that those who work in the casinos are properly looked after, that their interests are represented by the gambling commission and that we do not import into the United Kingdom rogue operators, but operators who will provide a decent working environment for their staff, with decent careers and decent job opportunities.

If casinos are properly regulated, they can make a major contribution towards employment in Britain and towards economic regeneration, but that depends on their being properly regulated. I hope that those views will find favour with the Government and that we will see some amendments to the Bill as it proceeds to protect the interests of casino workers.

9.25 pm

Mr. Adrian Sanders (Torbay) (LD): The origins of the Bill were to provide Blackpool, and probably no more than Blackpool, with a resort destination casino, and for the past two and a half to three years, Blackpool has campaigned hard to be considered for that resort destination casino.

If one looks at resort destination casinos in Las Vegas, one sees an interesting product, which is not just about the gambling floor but which offers a wide range of entertainment to people of all ages, with subsidised restaurants to attract families and with subsidised accommodation so that people spend as much as
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possible on the gambling floor. I do not think that anyone here has an objection to the high quality environment that exists in Las Vegas being transported into the United Kingdom. The objections come when we move to the Bill where the idea of one resort destination casino has changed to possibly 20 or 30, and, it has even been said, 40 regional casinos.

I am pleased that the Government have listened to at least one part of the protest that has raised its head in these proceedings, and, in particular, what Liberal Democrats were calling for in relation to category D machines, which the Government have now conceded can continue to operate, but, according to the Secretary of State, a reserve power will be kept. There is a problem with that in that an amusement arcade operator will think twice about investing in future category D machines. That power could well lead to uncertainty, and we may have pushed the Government halfway there to at least conceding that category D machines should not be included in the Bill, but we now need to push them a bit further not to have that reserve power in the hands of the Secretary of State so that those amusement arcades are safe.

I want to raise an issue that no one else has raised and that is the position of offshore water-based gambling on ships. Would a vessel that is permanently moored be a regional casino under the Bill and, if it was moored in one place and then moved to another, which local authority would license it? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that an entrepreneur could convert a vessel into a casino and moor it within our territorial waters, providing a shuttle service to land in order to maximise the reduced costs of operating a casino at sea and to get round some of the tighter regulation that the Government rightly pride themselves on having included in the Bill. I should like to know whether the Government have considered that possibility. There is also the possibility of riverboat casinos, which may be small casinos, but the question remains as to which local authority would grant the licence.

We have heard that the Bill creates a new gambling commission, which will have responsibility for regulating all forms of gambling. The Secretary of State said that it would have the duty to oversee those who wish to enter the gambling industry. As the Government's proposal for lots of casinos is aimed at bringing in money from overseas—mostly from the United States—I wonder whether it should be based in Las Vegas rather than in Newcastle upon Tyne, at least for that part of its work that involves investigating the background of those who want to operate casinos in this country.

The Government say that the Bill will increase opportunities for adults to gamble, while decreasing opportunities for children to gamble. They say that the expansion will bring economic and regenerative benefits. In a few resorts, casinos may well do that, but I cannot see—I have not heard a strong case for it tonight, nor have I seen any evidence to support the Government's case—that 20, 30 or more regional casinos would bring such benefits.

The new casinos could be huge buildings incorporating not only gambling facilities but restaurants, stage entertainment, retail outlets and even housing, and unlike other casinos, they will be allowed to have category A gaming machines with unlimited
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jackpots. Those who have not visited a category A environment, as found in the United States, do not know what they are letting themselves in for. These places are geared to maximise the amount of money that people spend, and they operate for 24 hours a day in a windowless environment with no clocks in sight.

There is clearly a need to reform our gambling laws, which pre-date the internet and the concept of online betting. There is also a case for relaxing the 24-hour membership rule for small-stakes bingo, whereby holidaymakers in my constituency, for example, have to be turned away from bingo halls unless they applied 24 hours in advance. Nobody argues that the laws do not need some reform, and we welcome parts of the Bill, but we have major concerns about the casino proposals. It strikes us that it is no coincidence that the UK, with the tightest rules on gambling in the world, has the lowest rate of gambling addiction per head of population.

The right of individuals to choose whether to use casinos has to be balanced against the potential social cost of gambling, and especially so-called problem gambling. Indeed, it has been estimated that each problem gambler costs the state £35,000. Government research shows that casinos in accessible locations that offer casual gambling pose a heightened threat of gambling addiction.

Other social costs can include late-night noise and disturbance, but local authorities do not have sufficient powers to consider those factors in licensing casinos, while in contrast, the new alcohol licensing laws allow for refusing planning permission on the grounds of public nuisance or saturation. I hope that that can be considered in Committee, if the Bill gets there.

I fear that, unless it can be amended, the Bill will open the door to mainly US-run and owned super-casinos with no real stake in the community other than a mission to extract as much money as possible from punters' pockets. With it could come the associated crime and criminality of the Las Vegas underworld. I fear that the Government's claim that they wish to encourage economic regeneration will in fact lead to social degeneration. The idea that seaside resorts were at the heart of the original proposals will fall by the wayside. If major cities are allowed to have super-casinos, that is where the punters will stay. They will not be attracted to the seaside resorts.

I suspect that the Government are going down this route because they are looking for a mechanism to achieve the economic regeneration of, mostly, inner cities without having to increase taxes. We on the Liberal Democrat Benches know that you get what you pay for. The Bill could be something for which we end up paying a very high price indeed.

9.35 pm

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