Abigail Townsend: You can't hit the jackpot if you hedge your bets

Britain is opening casinos with one hand, stopping them with the other

Ever had a flutter on the Grand National? Holidayed in Vegas? Used a pub fruit machine? More to the point, have you done any of them without losing your life savings, ripping your family apart or ending up in the gutter?

I'm guessing most of you would answer yes, but the hysteria surrounding gambling at the moment suggests you should be saying the opposite.

Since Labour promised to overhaul the UK's gambling laws, there has been uproar about how it will affect our moral fibre. Conveniently forgetting we already have one of the most liberal gambling markets in the world, the predictions were ominous and caution was urged.

And so the proposed number of "super", Las Vegas-style casinos was cut from eight to just one. Meaning that once-eager overseas operators, with millions to invest in the UK, got cold feet. And last week, regions up and down the country were bitterly disappointed when only eight made it on to the Casino Advisory Panel's shortlist.

When it was first announced last year that there would be just one super casino, this was billed as a test run - should it go well, more could follow. But it was a stupid argument: one will not give a true picture of the impact on you, me or the wider economy. Whereas more - say four, spread across the UK - would. You would be able to track people's habits, see how areas with the casinos responded, and work out the true value, along with any costs, to the economy.

The other argument was that the super casino, and the other smaller ones also permitted under the Gambling Act, would boost local economies and provide much-needed regeneration. But on that basis, last week's shortlist makes little sense. Two potential sites in London have made it - the same London that has already bagged the Olympics, the biggest regeneration project of them all. But neither Midlands project did.

Problem gambling must be addressed. But with so many people already familiar with betting - in the bookies, online or on holiday - it was surely not too big a leap of faith to assume we would not go crazy just because there were more casinos.

And so the UK is taking the biggest gamble of all - opening the door to casinos with one hand but slamming it shut with the other. And ultimately it's not the punters that run the risk of losing out, but the economy.

Enron won't be the end

Not that dedicated gamblers need casinos - they'll bet on anything. As the Enron trial drew to its close, internet bookies reported a surge in business as punters bet that Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling would be found guilty.

In the end, the jury convicted them on 25 charges; they are now expected to spend the rest of their lives in jail.

And that should be that: no more scandals, no investors left out of pocket or workers out of jobs. What more deterrent do you need? Not only are the lives of Skilling and Lay as they know them over, legislation has been enacted, mainly in the form of the stringent Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

But preventing another Enron can never be so satisfyingly simple. Jail sentences can be handed out and laws tightened, but little can be done about human greed. Because that, ultimately, is what the Enron case boils down to - how already extremely well-paid men couldn't resist squeezing yet more financial benefits out of a company that had nothing left to give.

It's understandable that Sarbanes-Oxley was brought in, and only right that boardrooms are subject to closer scrutiny. But more and more, we hear of companies rejecting the New York markets in favour of ones where the regulation is less exhausting and less costly - such as in the City, for instance, one of the most respected markets in the world. It's a shame, because despite the good intentions, trying to legislate against human nature is ultimately a hiding to nothing.

a.townsend@independent.co.uk

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jay Z has placed a bet on streaming being the future for music and videos
music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury
music
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager / Development Manager - NW London - £58k + 15% bonus

£50000 - £667000 per annum + excellent benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Manager / ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant / Telemarketer - OTE £20,000

£13000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Scotland's leading life insuran...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own