Casino firms in last-ditch effort to force changes to Gambling Bill

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The Independent Online

The British casino industry is embarking on a last-ditch campaign to influence the Government's Gambling Bill, demanding that it be allowed thousands more high-prize slot machines in order to compete with overseas operators who will enter the market.

Tens of thousands of pounds are being spent on advertising in the hope of persuading the Lords to back the proposed changes to the Bill that will allow UK operators to increase the number of slot machines in their existing venues from 10 to as many as 150.

The Government has so far insisted that only 24 casinos can be built, eight of which will hold up to 1,250 slot machines offering visitors unlimited prizes. But the Government has banned existing casinos from increasing the number of slot machines they can install, which the British Casino Association (BCA) says will devastate the industry. Existing casinos will also be prevented from offering sports betting, which new casinos will be allowed to offer.

Penny Cobham, BCA's chairman, said: "We cannot fathom why the Government has chosen to experiment with a large increase in the number of gaming machines and the provision of bookmaking services in new casinos while restricting our members from participating in these profound changes to gambling regulation.

"Our reward for an excellent track record in operating casinos responsibly is the arbitrary limiting of our ability to grow our businesses through deeply inequitable legislation."

The BCA has already won some favour with opposition frontbenchers in the Lords. Baroness Buscombe, the Tory culture spokeswoman in the Lords, said: "We have sympathies with the existing operators. It isn't right that new entrants should be allowed to offer better facilities."

The Government, however, is not prepared to back down. A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday: "We are limiting the number of new casinos because we believe they pose risks.

"The changes being suggested could mean the introduction of 10,000 new high-prize slot machines across the country. We are putting public protection first."