12:00pm 18th October 2004
The public is overwhelmingly against relaxing the gambling laws - according to research commissioned by the Government itself.
Opinion polls for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport this year revealed that only two per cent of adults want controls on casinos to be eased, while 60 per cent favour either maintaining existing laws or making them tougher.
Yet still Labour is pressing ahead with a Bill sweeping away gaming restrictions.And despite all the evidence, the Cabinet Minister in charge, Tessa Jowell, denies that the legislation will dramatically increase gambling addiction.
Even when confronted with projections suggesting the number of addicts could rocket by nearly 50 per cent - which she conceded were "disturbing" - she stood by her claim that the risks were minimal.
Kill the Gambling Bill
As the Daily Mail's campaign to stop the Gambling Bill gathered force last night, anti-addiction campaigners and Opposition MPs joined forces to challenge Culture Secretary Miss Jowell.
Downing Street wants to rush the measure on to the statute books before next spring's general election, fuelling speculation that it has been influenced by a £100million lobbying campaign from American gambling operators hoping to make massive profits in Britain.
The Gambling Bill, which could become law by next summer, will sweep away long-standing restrictions.
It will pave the way for scores of new "'super-casinos", each with more than 1,000 slot machines linked by computer to a possible million-pound jackpot.
'All forms of gambling unfavourable'
Currently gaming machine numbers in casinos are strictly limited with prizes capped at £2,000. The report from pollsters NOP was published without fanfare by the Government earlier this year, although accompanying press releases avoided mentioning the near-total lack of support for liberalisation.
It says: "On balance, with the exceptions of lotteries and bingo, all forms of gambling are regarded unfavourably.
"Very few respondents support less strict control of gambling and in the cases of fruit machines and the Internet, greater strictness of control is strongly supported."
In the case of casinos, only one person in 50 (two per cent) wanted "less strict" controls, while ten times as many favoured stricter rules, and 40 per cent felt current laws were "about right".
The picture was similar for fruit machines, with only two per cent wanting more relaxed laws, and 70 per cent favouring the status quo or tougher laws.
A spokesman for Miss Jowell's department said: "Gambling is an entirely legitimate pursuit for millions of people in this country, and they have a right to be able to do it in a regulated environment free from crime and fraud.
"This Bill is considerably more restrictive than many in the gaming industry wanted. We don't expect more than 20 to 40 new large-scale casinos to emerge as a result."
Miss Jowell's dismissal of the risks came in March this year when she addressed MPs and peers studying the Bill.
She bluntly declared: "I do not accept that the Bill will lead to an increase in problem gambling."
But a study submitted by the Henley Centre marketing company on behalf of the British Amusement Catering Trade Association concluded that the Bill posed substantial risks.
It warned that the number of problem gamblers could soar from 400,000 now to 700,000 if the Bill is passed.
It estimated that the number of gaming machines in casinos would rise from about 900 now to 81,000 - most of them so-called Category A machines, which are high-speed, offer large prizes and are considered the most addictive.
The Henley Centre also found that the amount spent a year on gambling would rise from £8.5billion to £10.6billion by 2010.
Former Tory culture spokesman Julie Kirkbride said: "The casino operators are only going to make the large profits they envisage if a lot more people gamble.
"It flies in the face of all the evidence around the world that a relaxation of the gambling laws does not in turn lead to an explosion in the number of people in the population who suffer from problem gambling."
Don Foster, Liberal Democrat culture spokesman, said: "Over the years senior politicians have come out with some truly strange statements, and I fear Tessa Jowell's claim belongs in that category.
"You have to be more or less off your trolley to think by increasing the opportunities for people to gamble you won't raise the risk of problem gambling."
Frank Field, the former Labour minister who is leading the revolt against the measure, told the GMTV Sunday programme: "The Government is off its rocker thinking that it would actually get this through. And once they actually let this tide of big money from America come in there will be no turning it back."
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