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Session 2004 - 05
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Standing Committee Debates
Gambling Bill

Gambling Bill

Standing Committee B

Tuesday 7 December 2004


[Mr. Peter Pike in the Chair]

Gambling Bill

Clause 220

Gaming machines: Categories A to D

Question proposed [this day], That the clause stand part of the Bill.

2.30 pm

Question again proposed.

Ann McKechin (Glasgow, Maryhill) (Lab): As I was saying when we adjourned this morning, the Opposition parties have tried to suggest that category A machines should be piloted in medium-sized and small casinos, which exist under the current gambling legislation. However, both parties failed to recognise the fundamental difference between the type and, in particular, the location of medium-sized and small casinos, and super-casinos.

In my city, for example, the majority of the five or six small to medium-size casinos are on the high street in the middle of retail centres. They are located in similar places to the local bookmaker. The type of premise that they are in, the clientele that they are likely to attract and the times that they are likely to open are therefore substantially different from those of the so-called super-casinos, which will, in the norm, be in separate locations. Visiting them would involve a specific intention, rather than their being something on the high street to pop into on the way to the shops or to visit relatives. Using super-casinos is a specific leisure activity, which requires specific intention and, normally, a visit.

The second thing that the Opposition suggestion ignores is that the reason the Government have agreed to consider super-casinos is the potential that they offer for regeneration in areas that require greater economic growth and investment. If we decide to pilot the category A machines in a host of different locations, many of which are not in regeneration areas, the likely benefit of locating in a regeneration area will be diminished. The likely consequential improvement to economic growth and employment to regeneration areas will also be diminished. In fact, the fundamental intention of the Bill—in terms of creating super-casinos—will be put at risk.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Will the hon. Lady tell the Committee why the scrutiny Committee, which considered the issue in great detail and took a huge range of evidence, recommended that category A machines should be placed in both small and large casinos?

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Ann McKechin: With respect, the Government are entitled to consider what the scrutiny Committee stated and then make their own views known. They also take into account not only the views of the industry, which Opposition parties have referred to throughout because it is to the industry's advantage to pilot category A machines, but the interests of our constituents and other groups and organisations that have expressed concern about the way that we control gambling.

The Government, having listened to the concerns that were expressed on both sides of the House on Second Reading about the number of casinos to be initially introduced, were right to decide that the number of super-casinos to be introduced will be low; that given the size and nature of the development concerned, super-casinos are likely to be located off the high street; and that we can then judge whether, based on the review that the Government have said they will implement, category A machines have a disadvantageous effect on gambling addiction problems.

I do not understand how a pilot scheme in high street locations would be an improvement. In fact, I think that it presents greater dangers, the like of which—as is clear from the sentiments expressed by various Members on Second Reading—Members do not wish to face at this stage. They prefer to adopt a more cautious approach.

Mr. Richard Page (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): I rise with a degree of hesitation, because when I spoke on clause 219, the Minister said that, although I am normally fair-minded and use a broad-brush approach, this time I was pedantic and approaching the issue as if in a debating society. It seemed to me that I was getting somewhere near the truth of the matter. The Minister was starting to squirm a little, because I was making the point that the powers given to the Secretary of State under that clause were excessive. Defending democracy and the liberties of the individual, I felt that some transgression was taking place. It is with temerity that I go on, and I am not too sure how the Minister will react to what I say. If he says that I am broad-brushed and open-minded, I will have failed in what I am trying to say today, but there we are, that is the way the cookie crumbles.

In an earlier intervention in this debate, I made a point about the time scale. The scrutiny Committee, on which I had the privilege and pleasure to serve, made several recommendations. With new casinos, after three years the agreed entitlement should be reviewed. The Government's response stated that they were

    ''minded to await the results of at least two prevalence studies, after the implementation of the new regime, before considering significant alteration to the gaming machine entitlements of all types of casinos.''

In an intervention, I made a point, which, realising its strength and power, my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Cambridgeshire (Mr. Moss), seized upon. I wish to re-emphasise it. The prevalence studies are carried out by organisations that are very knowledgeable about the gaming industry. For

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example, I refer to the Association of British Bookmakers, which has agreed a code of practice with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Gaming Board for Great Britain which has been adopted by the betting industry. It is being rigorously applied, enforced and policed through a formal compliance committee. That does not come cheap, but it is being carried out by the industry for the good of society. It has already cost the industry £200,000, and it will cost another £200,000 to introduce it and bring it to completion.

The inherent understanding in that agreement is that the code will be enshrined in regulations to be applied by the gambling commission. If we are going to carry out this work, we want to ensure that the results agreed are enshrined in the day-to-day operation of the gaming and gambling industry. The ABB has funded extensive research, conducted not by itself—because it might be said that it was all in-house—but by MORI and European Economics, aimed at ensuring the code's effectiveness. Again, although the research is funded by the ABB and the DCMS are getting the results for free, the Department has been fully engaged in defining the terms of reference of the research.

This is not, as is so often the case when Governments undertake reviews, a question of the industry defining, investigating and monitoring itself; it is an external operation. I therefore feel that the Government should state the time scale in which they expect to respond to the results of the review. The Minister owes it to the Committee to say when they will respond, explaining how they will deal with the results of all those studies. The review under discussion is just one, costing £400,000. I know that it is not the Government's money, and they are fairly careless and cavalier with other people's money, so, on behalf of the industry, I ask the Government to state the time scale for their response to and implementation of measures for the benefit of the gaming industry.

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): Welcome to the Chair, Mr. Pike. It is good to have you back.

The clause allows the creation of four categories of gaming machine to be defined in regulations. Category D machines will have the lowest maximum stakes and prizes, and category A machines will have no limits on stakes and prizes. Subsection (2) will allow regulations to subdivide category B. That means that we can create B1, B2, B3 and B4 categories of machine to cater for the different allowances in betting offices, bingo premises and clubs.

Regulations made under the clause must categorise machines by reference to the nature of the gambling facilities provided. They may refer to amounts paid to use the machine, the nature and value of prizes and the premises where a machine is used. Our present proposals on stake and prize limits have been published in the regulatory impact assessment, which was referred to by several hon. Members earlier. In making these proposals, we received representations—I am sure that Committee members will hear this—

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from every part of the gambling industry. To date, the discussions have been one-sided because of the voices we have been hearing in the prosecution of the case.

Those making representations argued for higher stakes and prizes for themselves, and lower stakes and prizes for their perceived competitors. We have also received representations from faith and children's groups who urged us to be even tougher on machine gambling. We believe that it is right to proceed cautiously and look closely at the evidence to make sure that we are not taking unacceptable risks. The clause gives us the power to make new regulations if the evidence shows that any of those machines are driving up levels of problem gambling. Therefore, we propose that category A machines be limited to regional casinos for the time being.

Category B machines include all machines currently known as casino jackpot machines as well as fixed odds betting terminals now found in betting offices. B1 machines will be available in casinos, and B2 in betting shops. Bingo halls and adult gaming centres will be allowed category B machines with prize limits of £500, and clubs and institutes will, under part 12, be allowed category B machines with £250 prize limits. Those will be B3 and B4 machines respectively.

Category C machines, with a £25 prize limit, will be available to premises licensed for alcohol and to licensed family entertainment centres. Finally, category D machines, with a prize limit of £5, will be available to family entertainment centres with permits, covering, for example, many seaside amusement premises and travelling fairs.

By setting stakes and prize limits in regulations, the Secretary of State will be able to make changes at any time, subject to the approval by Parliament of those changes. The regulations will be made using the affirmative resolution procedure.


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Prepared 7 December 2004