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Mr. Jim Cousins (Newcastle upon Tyne, Central) (Lab): In focusing all his fire and attention on mega-casinos, my right hon. Friend opens up the possibility of no mega-casinos, but a proliferation of casinos that are merely described as "large". On 16 December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State clearly stated that a cap will be imposed on not only mega-casinos, but large casinos, which was a significant step forward.
Alan Howarth: I agree with my hon. Friend that that was a constructive step. I also appreciate his point that a good deal of the argument that I am developing in relation to mega-casinos is applicable to large casinos, and we must be equally wary of the dangers posed by a proliferation of large casinos.
On 31 October last year, The Observer reported on the situation in Australia, which is instructive. Gamblers in the mega-casino in Melbourne have incurred vast losses of more than £3.2 billion over the past 10 years. The article stated that that mega-casino is used for the laundering of drugs money, and I thought that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) made some good points about the danger of crime associated with mega-casinos and
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the desirability of retaining an ID requirement, which, as he noted, would also help problem gamblers who are making efforts to exclude themselves from casinos and the policing of the age limit.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friends the Ministers noticed that when Judge Derek Inman sentenced a violent serial mugger who robbed to fund his betting shop addiction last November, he proposed that Parliament might wish to take that particular case into account in its consideration of the Gambling Bill. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir Teddy Taylor) discussed the rise of crime in Atlantic City when a mega-casino was established. In Sydney, it is reported that a Russian mafia has been running prostitution rackets, which is exactly what one sees if one visits Las Vegas. The report in The Observer quoted an Australian academic:
"'It is a crime inflicted on the community by the government. It has been an absolute curse on the state of Victoria. It is a money-making venture that maximises returns by ensuring that people lose a lot of money'".
The only other country I am aware of that is energetically promoting large-scale gambling is North Koreacurious company for us to keep. There must be better ways in which to regenerate our cities. On 30 October, The Times reported the opinion of the respected venture capitalist Wilbur Ross, who said that the casino and gaming sector is the next to go belly up and that
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said to me that it is better for people to gamble in mega-casinos than online, but I do not believe that the reality will be like that. If it is easy to gamble on the internet, why will people make a journey across the country to a regional casino or even across the city to a big casino?
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that planning authorities will provide a safeguard, but I fear that local authorities will all too readily be seduced by the prospects of planning gain and the anticipated extra revenue as a result of the presence of casinos. The Local Government Association's so-called safer communities board, which seems a somewhat Orwellian title given the context, expressed disappointment at the limit of eight casinos. I impugn the integrity of no individual, but it is dangerous to put such temptation in the way of planning officers and members of planning committees. We are dealing with an industry that disposes of very large sums of money and that is prepared to be entirely ruthless.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State also said to me that the gambling commission will be the judge of whether operators are fit and proper, which is true, but the difficulty is that the unfit will gamble and the improper will batten on them.
If this is the first wave, I do not want the tsunami. If the Bill is carried, I hope that my more apocalyptic fears will not prove justified, but I cannot see how any good can come out of the policy.
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Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman has spoken for about 14 minutes and has not yet said a word in favour of the Bill. Will he sum up in one sentence why he thinks that his Government are introducing it?
Alan Howarth: I respond to the hon. Gentleman by saying that my right hon. Friends are good people and good Ministers who are animated by concern for public well-being, and I am completely baffled as to why they are putting forward this policy. I do not want it and I will not vote for it.
Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): I propose to speak to amendments Nos. 142 and 116 and new clauses 13 and 11. We shall vote on amendment No. 116, and hope to press amendments Nos. 142 and 143 to a vote. I shall be relatively brief because I know that several Members wish to take part. That underlines the fact that the two hours that we have been given for this important debate on casinos is inadequate, as is the time allowed for the whole debate.
I begin by considering the issue of casinos in the round. The Government have changed tack dramaticallyI will not call it a U-turn. Their proposals are predicated on trialling, or piloting, regional casinos. The Bill retains the proposal for having 1,250 category A machines in the selected eight regional casinos. The existing industry, which consists of about 136 casinosthe number is sometimes cited as 131 or a few more, but let us take 136 as a ballpark figureand which has had an unblemished record for 40 years and done extremely well in terms of its social responsibility, has been completely and utterly ignored. The Bill makes no mention of it; it seems not to exist as far as the Government are concerned.
Through the 888 pilots, the Government propose a completely new situation with regard to category A machines, but the same numbers of category B machines in the eight new large and eight new small casinos as are allowed in the existing casino estate, where the maximum is only 10 machines per casino, irrespective of its size. That does not make any senseit is illogical. The Government's idea of a trial does not stack up. If they want a real trial, they should put machines into the existing estate, not leave it without any extra machines and virtually no changes other than to membership requirements and the demand test. We should have a proper trial, but let us not ignore the existing industry, because the impact on it will be immense.
The Government's proposals on casinos are analogous to saying that if an American supermarket interestI will not refer to any particular supermarketwanted to come into this country in a huge way, and was allowed to do so on the basis of regeneration, it would be allowed to sell anything and everything it wanted, while the existing supermarkets were told that they were limited to selling,
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perhaps, tinned food. That is the kind of situation that we face. Existing casinos can have a maximum of 10 category B machines, while the new casinos that the Government propose under the 888 proposals will have 150 category Bs per large casino and 80 per small casino. That completely eclipses the existing casino estate. If the Government want to test these proposals, they should do it across the board and limit the number of regional casinos from eight to four. That would, at a stroke, reduce the number of category A machines available from 10,000 to 5,000.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are 131 existing casinos in Great Britain, and 24 across London alone? By suggesting that we should suck it and see, as it were, is not he promoting a proliferation of those machines all over the country?
Mr. Moss: I hope to show that I am not proposing any more machines than the Government are. I propose that the existing casino industry should be part of the trial. Why should it be dismissed? On the day the Government announced the 888 configuration, £0.5 billion was wiped off the share value of the four major casino businesses in this countrynot £500,000 or £5 million, but £500 million. The Minister scoffed when that was raised in Committee, but it is a huge amount of money to be wiped off, and it happened because of the complete imbalance in the Government's approach to the future of the casino industry.
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