Gambling Bill

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Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman expand on what he means by gradual implementation? How would it be achieved? Could he specify the numbers involved?

Mr. Moss: I did say that we had tabled an amendment to clause 7 which relates to pilot schemes. Those would be our starting point. The Government would then commission a report and present it to Parliament, which, on the basis of the evidence, would decide whether to go for another four, 10 or 20 casinos. So, the process would be gradual, and it would start with a pilot scheme. However, I do not want to rehearse those points now.

Mr. Banks: I do not want to anticipate the debate on that subject, but how would the four be allocated? Would that be done through the planning mechanisms, or would Parliament decide?

Mr. Moss: I am not going to rehearse all the arguments that we shall deploy later, but we could proceed in several ways. There is no reason why the Government could not say that they would have four casinos in areas A, B, C and D. Indeed, they may decide on more than four, although we hope that there will be some movement on that. Equally, certain regions could be asked to tender for one casino, which could then be put out to a bid process. So, we could proceed in all sorts of ways, but the essential point is

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that we start with a small number and check to see how they are working before we increase the number by between 20 and 40, which is the scale that the Government seem to envisage in the Bill. We are saying that that is unacceptable and that we want the development to be gradual, if possible.

Amendment No. 80 would add the objective of

    ''promoting fair competition between those associated with gambling''

in line 11 of page 1. It would increase the power of the gambling commission—which will, of course, be delivering on such objectives throughout the industry—by providing that it can act to prevent a distortion of the competitive market and ensure that consumer choice is enhanced by effective competition, so far as that is consistent with the other licensing objectives. It also seeks to ensure that the licensing objectives are applied uniformly and consistently. Underpinning all policy should be the objective of fairly implementing the revised regulatory scheme, which will achieve equity for consumers and operators, with safeguards against discrimination.

There has been quite a reaction from the existing industry to the Government's proposals subsequent to the scrutiny Committee's second report on regional casinos—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. Can hon. Members try to resist the temptation to engage in private conversations in the Room? There are wonderful green Benches provided for that purpose outside the Room and they are extremely comfortable.

Mr. Moss: Thank you, Mr. Gale; that was helpful.

I was talking about the existing casino industry's resistance to the Government's response to the second report There is a breakdown in communication, a breakdown in trust and a breakdown in co-operation, not just across parties, but with the people on the scrutiny Committee who did an excellent job over a long period. All the previous consultation with the industry in this country seemed to count for nought when, out of the blue, the Government suddenly came up with the final proposals that are enshrined in the Bill. I hope that we can chip away at those, but essentially that relationship broke down.

The amendment seeks to reintroduce some fairness and equity. We are dealing not just with a commodity that is traded on our high streets and through our normal business channels. At the level of regional casinos, gambling is highly profitable. Let us not kid ourselves; people will make a lot of money. Those profits will be made on the back of ordinary people, not just the high rollers that I happened to see in a club in London the other week—I went on an investigatory expedition, of course. I could not possibly afford the stakes that I saw being used on a blackjack table, but such gambling goes on. I do not want to do it myself, but I see no problem if other people want to. However, a lot of money is involved. American investors talk about 10,000 to 20,000 people going through their doors during a weekend; that is their threshold. It is like a football crowd going through the doors over two days. It is a huge number of people. Many of them will not be able to afford the £25 chips that I saw being

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tossed on to a blackjack table the other night, but people on modest incomes will be tempted to go the extra mile for prizes.

Mr. Foster: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would agree, following his fact-finding visit, that the vast majority of profits, particularly from the new super-casinos or regional casinos, will come from machines. He said that the amendment is concerned with promoting fair competition between those associated with gambling and he will be well aware that there is a rather mixed view within the British industry on how best to achieve that. Some argue that the best way would be to have no category A machines in the new super-casinos, which would make it fairer for existing casinos. Others say that we should perhaps allow some category A machines in existing large and small casinos as they will be defined. Does the hon. Gentleman have a view on the way forward, or am I pre-empting something that he may wish to return to later?

Mr. Moss: Yes to all those questions. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point: if we want to establish a level playing field, there must be equal opportunities for all. As he well knows, under the Bill category A machines will go only into regional casinos. Existing casinos, whether large or small, will not have access to them. He is right in saying that the machines will deliver the profits, not the gaming tables.

Our view is that there should be equalisation somewhere, and we will come to that later. We do not have a fixed view that there should be x number of machines here, there or wherever, but existing casinos—probably just the large ones, not the small ones—should have access to category A machines in limited numbers. Alternatively, the stake payout could be increased for category B machines, which currently have a limit of £2,000. It is incredible that the Government are saying that someone on a modest income could wander into one of these new regional casinos and gamble away on category A machines. The one in east Manchester, if it gets built, will be on one of the most run-down housing estates in the city.

There is nothing wrong with that, although there is evidence to suggest that a great temptation will be placed in people's way and they may gamble more than they expected to. But compare that with the member of the London club casino that I went to last week: he was gambling huge amounts of money on the blackjack table. The Government say that he can do that, but he cannot spend more than £1 in a category B machine; it is fatuous. A sensible playing field needs to be established. We would like to see it set out in clause 1, under objectives, that the gambling commission must seek a fair and level playing field.

10.30 am

Mr. Hawkins: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's point. I was glad that when he mentioned the new casino in east Manchester, he added, ''If it gets built.'' When considering where these casinos will be built, we must bear in mind the danger that large inland, inner-city casinos might prevent the successful operation of casinos in our run-down resorts. We will have to look at where these casinos should be and what the Bill

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should say about that. I certainly would not want to accept that Manchester is bound to have a casino, because it might damage the chance to help resorts in the north-west.

Mr. Moss: I take on board what my hon. Friend has said. I know that he has close ties with Blackpool. If he wants me to put it on the record that I have no preference for east Manchester over Blackpool, I am happy to do so, but speaking as a Mancunian, it just slipped out that I knew about the proposals for east Manchester. Certainly, we have made no decision on where the casinos should be. Having said that, there is a strong case for one in Blackpool; there is a strong case for resort casinos. The concept behind these mega-complexes is that people will have to make an effort to go to them to experience a range of leisure activities.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): I am not going to say now what I want to say to the hon. Gentleman when we deal with his amendments to clause 7, but is he seriously considering regeneration possibilities in the context of the whole area? He will know that Manchester has enjoyed enormous regeneration over recent years. How would a large regional casino fit into what is already a booming city with enormous regeneration potential? There is a difference between the widespread regeneration of a town or area and simply a large development in an area, which does not link to that wider regeneration context.

Mr. Moss: The hon. Member for Blackpool, North—

Mrs. Humble: And Fleetwood.

Mr. Moss: Indeed. I could do with some of her fishermen's friends at the moment.

The hon. Lady made a strong plea for Blackpool over Manchester. I would not wish to interpose myself in that argument. She makes a good point. Manchester already has many developments and the regeneration aspect and payback for Blackpool would far outweigh any commensurate and proportional impact in Manchester.

Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con): Does my hon. Friend not think that the hon. Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) has pointed out precisely what is wrong with this Bill: it will attract investment to the wrong places and not the right ones? That is a very good critique of the Bill.

Mr. Moss: We still stand by the need for regeneration. Hopefully, regeneration would be a key component of any regional casino development system that is decided on and that evolves. We make that point later in our amendments to clause 7. We do want the maximum benefit to be derived from these developments. How that is measured is another open question, because regeneration is not the same as section 106 agreements or the tariff under the new Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004. They are all different, but I believe that we have an idea about what regeneration really means, and the

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Conservative party is keen to ensure that any regional casino developments yield very important and measurable regeneration results.

 
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