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The Independent Culture
Slot machines are coming to British casinos - it is just a matter of time. The idea is that casinos will be allowed to install two slot machines for every table game. In the biggest casinos that will mean up to 60 machines, from the present token presence of six.

If British gamblers are like players in the United States, France and anywhere else you can think of, slots, with their hypnotic mix of light, colour and noise, will dominate the scene. As soon, that is, as the new proposals from the Home Office pass into law.

The date remains problematic. The Home Office, never very fleet of foot at the best of times, has failed so far to get the draft orders out, though the formal discussion period ended two months ago. There is still no word on when ministers will act. There must be serious doubt, therefore, whether even the first tranche of minor reforms will be enacted during the present parliament, before a general election brings the curtain down.

As things stand, the British like roulette best. Queen of casino games as it is, roulette accounted for 62 per cent of the drop (money exchanged for chips), out of a total drop of pounds 2,548m last year. In its latest annual report, the Gaming Board states that casinos are maintaining their win, which improved marginally to 18 per cent or pounds 450m (before costs). So it looks as if casinos are shrugging off the challenge of the National Lottery, which has hit bookmaking and other sectors of the gaming industry so hard. The value of slot machines for casinos is not so much their revenue as their appeal to new players. Slots are fun and would be even more user- friendly if the Gaming Board lowered the casinos' percentage by a few points.

The proposals which the Home Office is sitting on are not very radical. They would reduce the 48-hour signing- on period to 24 hours, extend drinking hours in casinos from 11pm to 2am (3am in London), and allow the use of debit cards. The major changes, such as additional slot machines, are still to come.

There is no reason to suppose that a new government would backtrack on the proposals. But in politics, you might not care to put a great deal of money on it.

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