The deck is stacked against us, say casinos

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The Independent Online
CASINOS - dealt an unwelcome hand in the Budget - are fighting back and demanding reform of the 30-year-old gaming laws.

Reeling under a surprise hike in gambling duty, the casinos said the increase could force gambling underground.

On Monday they will call for the regulations which have rigidly governed their industry for 30 years to be updated.

The main irritation for the casino operators is rules on the maximum number of gaming machines permitted in any club. The number was increased from three to six in 1996.

But most casinos in Europe have between100 and 500, and the large Las Vegas venues as many as 5,000. As much as three-quarters of revenue can come from the machines.

Other problems they cite include the ban on advertising of any sort and the requirement that members should register in person 24 hours in advance of being allowed to play.

The casinos want to be able to place limited advertising in local newspapers and would-be members to be able to apply by post and then bring identification to the casino for confirmation. Membership of one casino should entitle the use of another one in the same group, the casinos say.

The proposals have the backing of, among others, the British Tourist Authority, which would like to include details of casinos in its guides.

The rules on gambling have been virtually unchanged since 1968 when the Gaming Act was rushed through Parliament to regulate a rapidly increasing number of clubs.

The British Casino Association will argue on Monday that things have changed since the year of the Paris riots and assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

A spokesman said: "The world has moved on, but casino legislation is stuck in a Sixties timewarp.

"The casino industry values sensible regulation for the benefit of the industry and its customers, but an act which was conceived in the Sixties is out of step with modern society."

Mike Allison, a casino consultant, said: "Since 1968, casinos have developed worldwide. Nearly everybody who has looked at British legislation has said it's really not appropriate for the late 20th century.

"In the provinces, the average spend on the gaming tables per person per visit is in the region of pounds 20. That's the cost of theatre tickets and a bag of chips. It's now a low-cost mainstream entertainment.

"At the moment, overseas visitors laugh at us. It's quite embarrassing."

Legislation was being prepared by the last government, but was lost with the election and the new Labour government has shown no great willingness to push it forward.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "Certainly the present legislation is old and quite complicated, but overhauling it will require a comprehensive review." She said the Gaming Board, which keeps watch on the industry, thought the law should be looked at.

The industry's long-running gripes were compounded on Tuesday when Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, announced that the top rate of duty payable on casinos' gross gaming yield - the amount left over after gamblers' winnings - would rise to 40 per cent from 33.5 per cent from 1 April, generating an additional pounds 20m for the Treasury.

Alan Goodenough, chief executive of London Clubs International, which attracts much of the lucrative business from overseas visitors, said if the measure had been in force last year, it would have paid 60 per cent of the extra duty.

"We shall be pressing as strongly as possible to persuade the Government that this is a mistake and should be reversed," he said.

The chips are down?

5 There are 116 casinos in the UK including 21 in London.

5 The industry is worth more than pounds 2.3 bn a year.

5 It will pay more than pounds 100m a year gaming duty following Tuesday's increase.

5 Nearly 11 million people a year go to a casino.

5 The average spend outside London is pounds 20. In London, there are a handful of people who will spend hundreds of thousands.

5 Outside London, 65 per cent of players are men and 35 per cent women.

5 Until last year, you could gamble until the early hours but drinking had to stop at normal pub closing time.