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Amendment No. 102 has been tabled in my name and that of the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) and others. The genesis of the Bill goes back to the Budd report of 2001, and it is worth reflecting that, in the early stages of his work, Sir Alan Budd sent a note to members of his committee that included a paragraph entitled "The Chairman's Dream", which optimistically stated:
"I hope we shall be able to establish principles which are acceptable to all sensible people and shall make proposals consistent with those principles. The (unanimous) report will then be published (to schedule) to widespread acclaim and all its recommendations will be accepted."
I suspect that Sir Alan and members of his committee will be bitterly disappointed that, following his report, as well as two detailed reports from the Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament and endless discussions in Standing Committee, we are still a long way from achieving "widespread acclaim" for the Government's Gambling Bill. As you have just demonstrated, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Bill is characterised by innumerable amendments, many of which have been tabled by the Government. As we can see from the amendment paper, many more have still to be debated.
This first group of amendments deals with the important issue of casinos, and it is worth reflecting on the fact that there has been much support from all sides for the Bill's provisions, including the establishment of a new tough, independent regulator through the creation of the gambling commission, which will replace the Gaming Board. We understand from a press notice today that the new body is likely to be located in Birmingham. The measures to increase requirements in respect of social responsibility for all involved in the gambling industry, and to bring remote gamblinginteractive television and internet gambling, for exampleunder regulation for the first time have also received support. Many hon. Members were delighted when the Secretary of State announced on Second Reading that casinos would be designated as a single-use category under planning regulations, although I hope that the Minister for Sport and Tourism will tell us when we can expect to hear more about that.
The Minister has often claimed, perhaps rightly, that as much as 90 per cent. of the Bill has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, but it is the issue of casinos that causes the greatest controversy. The Government's proposals on casinos came as a huge shock to many members of the public and many Members of the House. They simply could not understand why a Labour Government wanted to increase greatly the opportunities for gambling, and, in particular, launch a massive growth in the number of casinos, when, bizarrely, no member of the Government could even tell us with certainty how many casinos currently exist.
In particular, many of us simply could not reconcile the Government's initial plans to allow the unlimited introduction of new super-casinos, each of them having up to 1,250 new so-called category A machineswhich are untried in this countrywith unlimited stakes and prizes, with the statement made by the Secretary of State to the Joint Committee that,
Stung by the criticism, the Government backed down and made a welcome U-turnnot all U-turns are badfor which there was a great deal of support. The Government then told us, despite having told us previously that they thought that it was a bad idea, that they intended to cap the number of new regional super-casinos at eight. The Committee was much amused by the musings of the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks) on why the figure of eight had been chosen. He wondered, for instance, whether it was related to the atomic number of oxygen being eight, or whether it had some connection with the Buddhist eightfold path to enlightenment. Whatever the reason, however, the cap was a good idea. I note that there is an amendment in
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this group to reduce that number from eight to four. I want to make it clear that we will not support that amendment if a vote is called on it.
Perhaps more surprising, however, was the Government's announcement that it would also cap the number of new large and small casinos at eight. That now means caps of eight, eight and eight, which is remarkably reminiscent of the internet gambling site www.888.com. There are arguments for a cap on the number of large and small casinos if, crucially, that does not unduly prejudice the existing British casino industry. That is why amendments Nos. 141 and 142 are crucial, and why, if there is a vote on them, we will support them. After all, the British casino industry has an enviable record of being responsible and free of crime. It would be a huge mistake were we to allow the Bill to pass without ensuring that our industry is given a fair chance against the foreign competitors who are already at our door, seeking to pick up the spoils that the Bill creates. As the Bill stands, the indigenous industry could lose out significantly. If the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that he will explain in detail the nature of that threat and the solution to it.
I want to give one example of why, unless we guarantee both grandfather rights and the right to allow some trading up as proposed in those amendments, we could see many existing casinos lose some of their machines, while new casinos will be allowed a far greater number. At present, existing casinos are allowed 10 machines. They also have a number of electronic roulette or auto-roulette devices. A Bournemouth casino, for example, has 26 such devices, one in Birmingham has 38, and many others have 10 or more. In part 10 of the Bill, however, those devices are redefined as machines. Therefore, since casinos will only be allowed a total of 10 machines, unless we provide grandfather rights and the right to trade up, as proposed in amendments Nos. 141 and 142, every existing casino would see a reduction in the number of their current machines.
On amendments Nos. 102, 100, 101, 116 and 117, removing restrictions on casinos has been a key focus of this Bill since its inception. It proposes the removal of the 24-hour rule and membership of casinos. Following those relaxations, identification is no longer necessary for someone to enter a casino.
While liberalising the gaming industry has its benefits, we must be diligent about the possible dangers. Casinos without some form of identification requirement could easily attract criminals. As can be seen in the Treasury's anti-money laundering strategy document, the National Criminal Intelligence Service said as recently as 26 October last year:
"Money launderers can take advantage of the facilities offered by casinos to disguise the origins of their funds. Launderers can take 'dirty' cash into a casino, exchange it for chips, spend a few hours gambling, and then exchange the chips (with a gain or loss according to their play) for a casino cheque which can subsequently be presented as an apparently legitimate source of funds."
We tabled the amendments with the aim of preventing crime and money laundering from infiltrating our casinos. They clearly set out a system under which well-monitored areas in casinos will be designated for gaming. To enter such areas, gamblers will have to
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provide identification for the casino operators, who will then use the information from identification to keep track of those who frequent their casinos. Those measures will not only curb money laundering and crime, but help with problem gambling. We are well aware that many casinos currently operate self-barring schemes, enabling problem gamblers to request that their casino membership be suspended and entry denied to deal with their addiction. If there were no requirement for ID on entry to a casino, it would be very difficult for such schemes to operate. I consider that unacceptable, as many operators find the schemes particularly beneficial in combating customer addiction to the new high-price slot machines.
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