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Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says about problem gamblers, but how would he get around the problem of those who are refused entry at casinos but then use the internet to continue their gambling? That still worries me.
Mr. Foster: The hon. Gentleman is right to express concern about internet gambling. Recent evidence suggested that young children currently had no difficulty in gambling on the internet. The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that there is a great deal of supportin, I think, all parts of the Housefor the clauses that will bring internet gambling under regulation, and that proposals in a later group of amendments will toughen the arrangements still further. There remains the problem of internet gambling operations that are based in the UK, but have a server based somewhere else. I know that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford has tabled an amendment to deal with that.
The issue of children is clearly important. The amendments propose the establishment of a clearly identified area for high-stakes machines, which will be heavily supervised. Children will not be allowed into such areas, as long as we know who is defined as a child in the legislation. If we do not have a system of identification, it will be difficult for those doing the supervising to know who is under 18, for example. We have discussed that in other contexts, such as the licensing legislation: landlords will have a problem if there is no identification system. A number of benefits would accrue from the amendments, which would not only deal with money laundering but protect young children and help with problem gambling.
"we are not persuaded that it would be right in future to require identification on entry in all cases . . . The casinos of the future will not be the same as casinos now."[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 2 December 2004; c. 351.]
But despite the complications and difficulties that I accept may well arise for the big regional casinos dealing with large numbers of punters streaming in on Saturday nights, I think it imperative for a mechanism to be established to protect the British gaming industry from crime, as well as protecting young people and problem gamblers.
The Minister may well tell us that the Government are awaiting the outcome of European Union deliberations on the third directive on money laundering, but one
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thing is clear: the Government themselves have accepted that the gambling commission must establish a clear set of guidelines. Indeed, clause 24 states that arrangements must be made for the purposes of
I genuinely believe that the provision of identification would help in all those cases, and that it would be consistent with the terms of the third directive and with what the Government claim that they wish to achieve.
I turn to amendments Nos. 103 to 105. Although regulating access to a gaming area is an important issue, so are the powers that we give to local authorities over the introduction of casinos in their area. Local authorities should be given as much freedom as possible, within the proposed caps, to take advantageor notof the increased gambling opportunities afforded by the Bill. As currently drafted, clause 161 empowers local authorities to say no only to any casino whatsoever; it does not enable them to say that they want, for example, only one casino, or only two or three casinos. Amendments Nos. 103 to 105 would enable local licensing authorities to place their own cap on the number of casinos in their area, and at a figure other than zero. When such authorities review premises' licences, they should have as much freedom as possible to determine what kind of premises they want in their area and how many there should be.
Finally, the purpose of new clause 11, which deals with cheating, is to make it illegal to carry articles into a casino that could help in analysing or predicting the odds or outcome of the game. It tackles the problem of so-called "advantage players", who use such articles to help them during the game, but who argue that they are not cheating because they are not interfering with the game. We tabled a similar amendment in Committee, but we withdrew it after the Minister assured us on 30 November last year that a gambler who does anything that unfairly increases his chances of winning is cheating and is therefore covered.
Despite that assurance and others given by the Minister in subsequent conversations, we are not convinced that the Bill as drafted would result in "advantage playing" being considered an offence. Current legislation certainly does not consider it so. On 6 Decemberonly a few days after the Minister gave us that assurance in CommitteeThe Times reported an incident at the Ritz casino in which the use of a device in a mobile phone enabled the players in question to predict the outcome of every spin of a roulette wheel. As a result, they scooped £1.3 million. However, according to legal advice, because the device had not interfered with the game the gamblers were not in breach of current law, and were therefore able to hold on to their winnings. The purpose of new clause 11 is to change the system, so that we can be absolutely sure that so-called "advantage" cheaters will be unable to get away with such things.
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Many jurisdictionsin Nevada, in South Africa and in a number of Australian states, for examplealready explicitly legislate against practices such as that employed during the Ritz episode. They have laws that prevent not only the sort of cheating described by the Minister in Committee, but offences relating to the possession or use of the devices mentioned in our new clause. Our suggestion is therefore already in operation elsewhere, and its use would not be unprecedented.
There are a number of other amendments to which many Members will wish to speak, but I should make it clear before I finish that the part of the Bill dealing with casinos is still a long way from being likely to achieve the widespread acclaim that Sir Alan Budd referred to. I hope that our amendments are accepted, so that they can at least move the Bill in the right direction.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend) (Lab): I must admit that I am not an expert in all the complexities of the Bill. I was happy to see the extension of regulation of new forms of gambling, butas I said on Second Reading when I voted against the BillI am very disturbed by the opening of the gates to super-casinos and the way in which the Bill will allow people to gamble much more easily than they can at present.
I appreciate that in Committee the Government have adjusted the likely number of super-casinos and have proved willing to experiment first, but I have still tabled amendment No. 96, which would delete regional casinos from the Bill. Other amendments to which I have put my name would provide for smoke-free areas, a ban on alcohol at the tables and limits on opening hours. The gambling commission will have control over those issues, but they should be covered by the Bill. There are some 13,000 casino workers in the UK at present, but the Bill would lead to a huge increase in that number. It is only right that they should not have to work in the smoke-filled rooms that seem to exist in many casinos. It is also right that no alcohol should be allowed at the tables. I understand that some casinos have been operating that policy for about 18 months. It gives people the opportunity to have a break from the tables and perhaps think about what they are doing. I believe that there should be a ban on consuming alcohol in the gaming areas. If alcohol is sold on the premises, it should be kept away from those areas. As I read the Bill, it would allow casinos to be open for 24 hours. The gambling commission should have the right to set opening hours, and I am willing to leave that to custom and practice. By and large, casinos are open from 2 pm to 4 am. That is way beyond any time that I personally would like to see them open, but if that is the rule of thumb that operates at present, I am content to allow that to continue. However, I do not favour 24-hour opening.
I wish to support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gateshead, East and Washington, West (Joyce Quin) to maintain the 24-hour membership rulethe cooling-off period. It protects the person who goes out on a Saturday night and has a few drinks, and then their friend says, "Come on, let's go to the local casino." Before they know it, they are inside. They may have already drunk too much, but still have money in their pocketsof course, under the Bill, they
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could even use their credit cards to get money to gamble. I have tabled some amendments on that point later in the Bill.
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