Cameron to face questions over his gambling policy bow to party donor

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The Independent Online

David Cameron is facing questions over his gambling policy amid claims that it benefits a big party donor.

The Conservatives forced the Government - which was struggling to get its gambling reforms through the final days of the last Parliament - to drop plans for eight super-casinos last year.

When he took over the party, Mr Cameron maintained the policy that there should be just one super casino, even though he faces growing opposition from Conservative council leaders who want to attract new operators to their areas.

Now the party has been forced to deny that its policy had been influenced by donations from Lord Steinberg, the chairman of gaming group Stanley Leisure.

Lord Steinberg was named as one of the Conservative Party's secret lenders earlier this month and has been a long-standing and generous donor.

Ken Taylor, the Conservative leader of Coventry City Council, recently expressed his dismay at the party's official policy. "We need to make sure that the Conservative Party gives its full support to more casinos.

"This is about jobs and regenerating areas of deprivation. It's not just about building casinos. I will be putting this message to the shadow minister for culture and to David Cameron. I will make it clear that we want eight back on the agenda."

Stanley Leisure is one of the biggest players in Britain's casino market but most of its venues are small or medium. Analysts agree that restricting the number of super casinos benefits existing operators since it keeps out US competitors.

Matthew Gerard, an analyst at investment bank Investec, said: "It's quite delicate, but the industry is probably reasonably happy with just one and anything up to four. After that, you start to get the Americans involved. The US probably won't enter the industry, so it's not a bad situation to be in."

Patrick Hargreaves of Goldman Sachs agrees that it suits Stanley Leisure to keep the number of super casinos to one. "Probably yes, because the more super casinos there are, the more competition there is. But it depends on a number of factors - will it get the one, will it get one if there's more than one, and where they all are."

But a spokesman for the Conservative Party denied any link. "Lord Steinberg is a well-known Conservative Party donor. All the party's loans and donation are compliant with the law and do not carry any influence over Conservative Party policy."

Stanley Leisure declined to comment.

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