Casinos claim they're still fighting the odds

FROM this week, Britain's casinos will enjoy a relaxation of the draconian rules which govern them. However, the moves are unlikely to assuage the industry's feeling that it is the victim of double standards by a Government which has promoted the National Lottery.

The rule changes will allow casinos to advertise, although only in small displays in classified sections. The maximum number of slot machines will be increased to 10 from six, but the industry protests that limits on jackpots mean these games are rarely played. The other change will allow punters to apply for casino membership by post for the first time. At present, they have to turn up in person. However, the 24-hour cooling- off period between acceptance and entry will remain.

"These changes will only make a cosmetic difference to the way casinos are ruled with an iron rod," one casino operator said. "It is ridiculous for the Government to be so strict when it sponsors the National Lottery so aggressively."

Operators have also had to contend with a rise in gaming duty and Asia's economic strife, which has affected many of its "high-rolling" customers. Stuck for ways to expand their businesses, several operators are trying to open new establishments in provincial towns and cities. However, London Clubs International, whose casinos include Les Ambassadeurs, recently had an application for a licence in Northampton rejected. The company plans to appeal.

Complaints about the casino industry's regulatory environment come amid intense pressure for the Government to consider easing the tax burden on bookmakers. All three big bookmakers - Corals, Ladbrokes and William Hill - are manoeuvring to set up off-shore operations which will circumvent the 6.75 per cent betting tax. The moves were prompted by the success of Victor Chandler's Gibraltar-based bookmaking operations. Some believe that the bookmakers are using the threat as a ploy to force the Government to cut betting tax.

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