Casinos face axe from Gambling Bill

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The Independent Online

The Government's controversial Gambling Bill, which will open up the UK to Las Vegas-style casinos, is in danger of failing and may succeed only if there are further significant climbdowns by ministers, opposition frontbenchers and industry commentators warned yesterday.

The Government's controversial Gambling Bill, which will open up the UK to Las Vegas-style casinos, is in danger of failing and may succeed only if there are further significant climbdowns by ministers, opposition frontbenchers and industry commentators warned yesterday.

With a general election expected in early May and only a few weeks to get the Bill approved in the Lords, the Conservative shadow Culture Secretary, Malcolm Moss, said it would be a "miracle" if the Bill is passed in time. Some industry representatives believe ministers are considering dropping the contentious parts of the Bill relating to new casinos as a last resort to get the rest of the laws approved.

Derek Jeffrey, the chief executive of the British Casino Association, said: "I know government ministers, including Lord McIntosh and Richard Caborn, are considering dropping the casino elements of the Bill in order to get it passed." But a spokesman for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport said yesterday that the Government had no intention of removing the casino proposals.

But Mr Moss believes the Government may well want to "kick the casino elements into the long grass", given the embarrassing backlash against its plans. It was forced to make a major U-turn on its casino proposals last month after fears the Bill would lead to huge numbers of casino developments, each with 1,250 slot machines that pay unlimited prizes. It now wants to limit the number of these "super" casinos to eight, and has also planned to cap the number of new small and large casinos to eight each.

This 8:8:8 policy has caused huge anger from existing casino operators, who have also now been told they will not be allowed to put more slot machines in their existing casinos as they previously hoped. Considerable opposition is expected in the Lords, by which time a general election will be looming. For the Bill to be passed, opposition MPs are expecting the Government to back down at the last minute before the election.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat Culture spokesman, said: "There are still four or five areas that are of concern. The Government wants to get parts of the Bill, like those that bring greater protection for children, through, so this will probably go right to the wire and a deal will be hammered out."

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