Gambling

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The wheel of fortune has turned full circle at Ladbroke's, one of the best known names in gambling. Fourteen years after losing its casino licences, when it was judged "not fit and proper", the company is back on the baize.

Much has happened in those 14 years. Last year Cyril Stein stepped down as chairman and a new team has taken over. The Gaming Board still required several months of inquiries before finally approving Ladbroke's applications to operate the three casinos it took over in London: Maxim's in Kensington, Chester's in Soho and the Golden Horseshoe in Queensway. The decision, apart from showing that there is life after disqualification, marks the start of a new chapter in casino gambling.

To date, the main change it has introduced is to up the limits at Maxim's, a pleasing, converted mansion off Kensington High Street. Punters in the salle privee can now wager pounds 2,000 on a single number at roulette, - a big bet, matching John Aspinall's casino in Curzon Street. If the punter's number comes up, and all adjoining neighbours and corners are covered, he can net pounds 270,000 on a single spin. Only a few players can afford this kind of punt, but the awareness that high-stakes gaming is on offer is calculated to attract high rollers from the orient, even if they do not always play that high.

Having re-established its credentials at home, Ladbroke's is now set on expanding abroad. It already runs a racetrack and various betting outlets in Pennsylvania and is building a card club in San Fransisco. It is actively looking at in-house casino gambling worldwide (outside America) in its Hilton hotels. But its key objective, presumably, is to buy a major casino as the hub of an international gaming network. There are plenty of casino-hotels up for sale, in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Casino gambling is still spreading like bindweed in the United States. In Vegas itself there seems to be no limit either on the operators' desire to build or the public's lust to gamble.

Even the strait-laced British Gaming Board is relaxing its stays a tiny bit. It has sanctioned a couple of new games this year and approved an increase in slot machines from two to six in each establishment. Noting that London has 21 casinos, with a "drop" (total money gambled) close to pounds 1.7bn, the Board comments that this makes it "unique for a capital city".

In its latest annual report (HMSO pounds 12.75) the Board discloses that it has gone so far as to hold a couple of meetings with casino operators, to discuss issues of current interest. Egad! Whatever next?

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