Casinos seek reform of 'restrictive' gaming laws

'The Act is ... archaic and out of step with Nineties Britain'
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Casino owners demanded the liberalisation of Britain's gaming laws yesterday, claiming that the current restrictions are driving gamblers away to foreign competitors.

The changes would reflect more liberal social attitudes, provide new jobs and increase the gaming industry's earnings from abroad, the British Casino Association (BCA) said, launching its campaign for reform.

But opponents predicted that the changes would increase the number of people with a gambling problem and accused the casinos of being solely interested in profits.

The BCA, which represents the 119 casinos in Britain, said that the 1968 Gaming Act, introduced because of widespread concern about the spread of unregulated gambling, is in need of reform.

Brian Lemon, its general secretary, said: "The 1968 Act has not been updated for nearly 30 years. It is paternalistic, archaic and out of step with the Britain of the 1990s. We are not seeking wholesale deregulation but sensible modernisation to enable us to compete effectively for foreign customers and to enable our customers to game under less onerous conditions."

Proposed changes include the abolition of the 48-hour cooling-off period, which prevents anyone entering a casino on his or her first visit for two days after joining unless as the guest of a member. This regulation was introduced to prevent impulse gambling.

The BCA also wants to end the ban on advertising, a relaxation on the number and types of gaming machines allowed in casinos, modernisation of payment methods to enable customers to pay by credit or debit card and licensing law changes to allow casinos to serve alcohol after midnight.

Lord Harris of Greenwich, the BCA chairman, said: "There are signs that our casinos are now unable to compete with the more relaxed regimes of our competitors both in continental Europe and world-wide, and that the laws governing casinos do not reflect the more liberal attitudes to gambling in Britain which have developed over the past decade."

The BCA's campaign is likely to meet a sympathetic response from the Government, which has already reformed betting shop laws and introduced the National Lottery. The Home Office is reviewing gaming legislation and is expected to recommend some of the reforms proposed yesterday.

The proposals were criticised by Dr Emanuel Moran, chairman of the National Council on Gambling and a consultant psychiatrist dealing with compulsive gamblers. He said: "I have no doubt at all that there will be more compulsive gamblers and more people with problems if these changes are introduced. The industry is not proposing this out of charity, it is doing this to stimulate demand.

"The present arrangements are a model to the rest of the world and to knock them down would be most unwise. We do not say that there should be no gambling, but the evidence is that the more gambling there is, the more casualties there are."

But Michael Allison, managing director of Grosvenor Clubs, which is owned by Rank, said: "We have no evidence that instant access would lead to problem gambling. We do not believe that what we are proposing would add to any problem gambling."