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30 Jan 2006 : Column 1

House of Commons

Monday 30 January 2006

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Casino Licences

1. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What the trend in applications for new casino licences under the Gaming Act 1968 has been over the past 12 months. [46090]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn): The Gambling Commission received 43 applications under the Gaming Act 1968 for certificates of consent in respect of new casinos during 2005–06 compared with 25 in 2004–05. On 10 November 2005, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced her intention to set a final date for such applications. We are currently consulting on a draft order, which will give effect to that commitment from 28 April 2006.

Mr. Leigh: Given that it is estimated that there are more than 300,000 problem addicts in the UK and that
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many of the people who will use the new regional casinos will be those who are least able to pay gambling debts, how soon after the first regional casino is opened will the Government institute an assessment of that casino's impact on problem gambling?

Mr. Caborn: That is not quite the same question, but I shall answer it. As the hon. Gentleman knows, only one regional casino will be set up, because the Opposition insisted that the figure be reduced from eight to one before the election. We are currently consulting on where the regional casino should be sited in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Lindsay Hoyle (Chorley) (Lab): The north-west.

Mr. Caborn: I have heard my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hoyle). A prevalence study will be undertaken every three years, and we are currently examining the data on problem gambling. The UK has the toughest regime on gambling, and we shall retain it. The Budd report led to the development of a trust to examine the issues around problem gambling to which the industry is contributing £3 million a year. If the voluntary approach is not successful, the legislation contains reserved powers that allow the introduction of a statutory levy. Indeed, we will take the matter in-house to the Gambling Commission, if it is necessary to do so. Our regime on problem gambling is the strictest in the world.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) (Lab): Sun Casinos has proposed the setting up of a casino in east London. Much as I would welcome any jobs created by such a development, the Minister will be aware of local people's concern about the crime that inevitably accompanies such casinos. Will he provide an assurance that the regulations are stringent?

Mr. Caborn: As my hon. Friend knows, setting up a casino, whether it is large or small, involves a twofold licensing process. A casino requires a licence from the Gambling Commission and, importantly, a premises
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licence and planning permission from the local authority. If a local authority does not want a casino to open in its area, that casino will not open.

Mr. John Whittingdale (Maldon and East Chelmsford) (Con): Given the increased opportunities for casinos, particularly since the increase in permitted stakes and prizes for gaming machines in casinos, does the Minister agree that that makes it all the more important to implement the recommendations of the Gaming Board on category C machines outside casinos? When does he intend to implement those recommendations?

Mr. Caborn: My officials are currently engaged in dialogue with the industry on stakes and prizes. We are not prepared to go any further on liberalisation until we receive clear assurances on the conditions laid down in the Gambling Act 2005 that the vulnerable—particularly children—will be protected and that the industry will be crime free.

Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend say how many local authorities, and in particular how many Conservative local authorities, have asked for a change in the Government's policy? A regional casino is being prepared in Coventry, subject to Government approval.

Mr. Caborn: Many local authorities have asked for such a change. A few days ago, the front page of the Financial Times seemed to indicate shifting sands, so far as the Opposition are concerned. I was interested to read that the Opposition are prepared to revisit the issue of the number of regional casinos, and it would be interesting if they were to let us know how far they would go with liberalisation.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Does the Minister realise that his answer to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) on uprating stakes and prizes for category C and D machines is a terrible blow for all those who run family entertainment centres, where more than 1,000 jobs have been lost in the past 12 months alone? Will he acknowledge that the industry has provided him with a great deal of evidence over the past few months, and will he make a statement on the issue in the next two or three weeks?

Mr. Caborn: I will not make a statement, but I will say that there has been no freeze on stakes and prizes—on the contrary, we propose that the stake on amusements with prizes machines be increased from 30p to 50p. We made it very clear—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree, because he served on the Gambling Bill Committee, as did other Members in the House today—that we would continue with any liberalisation only as long as all the conditions were met, including protecting the vulnerable and children, and ensuring that activities are crime-free. Discussions with the industry on stakes and prizes for AWPs will continue. If those can be satisfactorily concluded, I have no doubt that we can move forward.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): My hon. Friend will know of my concern about the impact of increased gambling on gambling addiction. Will he
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undertake to monitor levels of gambling addiction? If the more liberal regime leads to more gambling addiction, will he consider restraining and restricting casinos in future?

Mr. Caborn: The answer is yes. There has been a prevalence study. The difficulty with gambling is not with casinos or betting shops but with online gambling. That is why we introduced the Gambling Act 2005. Remote gambling and internet gambling are the major growth areas, but we cannot control them until the Act is fully operational.

I would go further and say that this cannot be addressed by just one member state. That is why my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will this year convene a meeting with a number of Ministers with responsibility for gambling around the world to consider introducing international legislation whereby we can deal with problem gambling on the internet. There is a major issue with the credit card companies as well, and we will be engaging them in discussion. We are looking at the whole question of the new, modern gambling. Remote and internet gambling is a major issue facing this country and many others.

Mr. Malcolm Moss (North-East Cambridgeshire) (Con): Why has it been possible under the Gaming Act 1968 to apply for a new casino licence up until April this year, whereas if an existing casino has to cease operation for any reason, such as a fire, it cannot rebuild or reinstate its licence until well into 2007? What other business has to live with that level of uncertainty?

Mr. Caborn: Absolutely none. I admit that that is one of the problems with the legislation. We will address it with the industry, and if we can find a solution—[Hon. Members: "You are in government."] Yes, I understand that. We have been in government for the past eight years, and we will continue to be so. We are rather enjoying it.

We will resolve this issue with the industry by applying the same common sense that we have applied to many other issues. As I said, it is nice to see in the Financial Times that sanity is prevailing among the Opposition, who played politics on regional casinos before the last election. We welcome them on board.

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