Even before the new casinos open, Britons risk £4.2bn at the tables

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The Independent Online

The British public has splashed out £4.2bn in casinos over the last 12 months, a £73m hike on the previous year's figure.

The data is revealed in the annual report of the Gambling Commission, which replaced the old Gambling Board last autumn and is charged with overseeing the UK's betting industry. It will also play a big role in implementing the new Gambling Act, which comes into force next year, and regulating the increase in casinos. Another 17 will be opened under the new legislation, including a controversial "super" casino.

The report also showed that the UK now has 140 casinos, employing more than 16,000 people and contributing £143m in taxes during 2005-06.

As well as the £4.2bn spent by punters on the tables, £1.8m was splashed out at bingo clubs, while £2.1bn was retained by suppliers and owners of gaming machines.

The total operating costs for the commission itself, meanwhile, came in at £10.2m for the 12 months, with an extra £4.2m spent on transforming the old Gambling Board. The bulk of that was paid for through government funds, though the commission is expected to become self-funding eventually.

The Gambling Act has caused considerable controversy. Originally there were not going to be any limits on the amount of new casinos allowed to open, including very large super casinos. But under pressure from campaign groups, the Government pared the number down.

Concerns have also risen about the surge in popularity of online gambling. The companies have taken the City by storm, with investors keen to snap up shares. PartyGaming, for instance, entered the FTSE 100 almost immediately after its debut on the London market. But groups such as GamCare have highlighted the potential for an increase in problem gambling.

The commission has responded by launching a gambling- prevalence study. A spokesman confirmed that a pilot test was being conducted and the full survey, to be carried out by the National Centre for Social Research, would get under way in the autumn. "It will be a major piece of work and should give a real sample of gambling in this country." Around 10,000 people are expected to be interviewed.

Commission chairman Peter Dean said in the report: "The commission has been, and is still, engaged in extensive policy development and consultation. The Gambling Act sets the framework of the new regulatory regime, leaving much detail to be dealt with in licence conditions."