Bet first, ask questions later. The casino industry's has been hasty in its enthusiasm for the Home Office's new proposals to ease restrictions on gaming. The fine print suggests that it will be a while before changes come through. In gambling there are no sure things, especially in legislation.

For casinos, only three changes -all relatively minor - appear likely in the lifetime of the present Parliament: reduction of the 48-hour waiting period to 24-hours; extension of the liquor licensing hours; and payment by debit cards. The procedure is as follows: the discussion period runs up to 31 May; then the Home Office collates responses and draws up deregulation orders; next, these are examined in committee in the Commons and Lords. Finally, if nothing goes wrong, the orders will pass into law. If a general election intervenes - at least an even- money bet - this timetable is completely shot.

On the major changes proposed - casino advertising, slot machines, postal applications and group membership - prospects of a speedy result are, unfortunately, more remote. There is no realistic chance of these changes coming into operation in the life of the present Parliament. As the Home Office makes clear, "a further round of consultation" is required. This is, essentially, to clarify what is involved - in advertising, for example, what is a "listings magazine"? in slot machines, what size and style of pay-outs? In theory, this second period of consultation could begin immediately after the present round, so that changes in primary legislation could be concluded within a year. In practice, that is not going to happen. Sympathetic as they may be, Home Office ministers have other things to worry about before the election.

After it, a new team at the Home Office will very likely pick up the reins and gallop ahead. Everyone involved, including the Gaming Board, recognizes that change is overdue. But all this will take time and effort. If opponents of gambling get a second wind, new hurdles may strew the course. Good times are coming for casinos - but not just yet.

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