Football clubs plan giant casinos as gambling law shake-up is unveiled

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The Independent Online

Some of Britain's most famous football clubs are to host US-style super casinos with unlimited jackpots as part of the biggest shake-up in gambling laws for nearly 40 years.

The US company Las Vegas Sands Inc confirmed yesterday that it was in advanced talks with Glasgow Rangers FC and Sheffield United FC with a view to creating gambling and entertainment complexes worth £200m. A spokesman said the company was in similar discussions with other football clubs throughout the country. There are also plans to build giant casinos with adjoining hotels at a number of seaside resorts, including Blackpool. The new £100m super casinos will have slot machines with unlimited jackpots.

Rodney Brody, head of the UK operation for Las Vegas Sands, said: "We welcome the Government's announcement that it will push ahead with the modernisation of the UK's gambling legislation as soon as possible. This enables us to continue with our advanced discussions with a large number of football clubs, which will bring significant regeneration benefits to the UK."

The news came as the Government unveiled tough controls to protect young people and vulnerable gamblers. Tessa Jowell, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, announced the moves in response to a report from the MPs' scrutiny committee, which examined ministers' draft proposals.

Under the proposals the one-armed bandit would no longer be a feature of minicab offices and fish and chip shops across the country. Instead, the owners of premises with such machines would have to obtain a licence from the Gambling Commission.

Ms Jowell said the Government had decided that deregulation, as followed in Australia, was not the best way to modernise gambling laws in this country.

She promised the changes would also help protect children from gambling. She said: "People who want to gamble will have to really want to gamble. You won't simply be able to stumble across a casino in your high street."

The Las Vegas-style slot machines offering unlimited prize money will only be allowed in the biggest casinos, with numbers limited to 1,250 in each venue.

Small casinos will not be allowed to run bingo games and all casinos will be required to have "chill-out" non-gambling rooms, said Ms Jowell.

She also said that local councils would have the power to prevent new casinos opening in their area and added that studies would take place every three years to examine how prevalent gambling had become as a result of reforms.

Ms Jowell said that the Gambling Commission would be given powers to fine owners of casinos where punters "racked up losses against which they had been given false hope". She added: "If you want to gamble, which people are entitled to do, you will know that there is a regime in place that keeps criminals out and helps protect gamblers' interests."

The Salvation Army and the Methodist Church said that, despite some safeguards, the Government's proposals were still likely to cause a rise in problem gambling.

The two organisations, which have argued for better protection for vulnerable people and gave oral evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Gambling Bill, said they believed that expanding the "leisure activity" was still being given precedence over the welfare of thousands of people whose lives are being ruined by problem gambling.

Both said they were "pleased" that the Government had listened to concerns and planned to remove fruit machines from unlicensed areas, such as minicab offices and fish and chip shops. But Jonathan Lomax, public affairs officer for The Salvation Army, said: "It is very disappointing that the Government has proposed to maintain Britain's unique position in the world in allowing children to gamble on low-value fruit machines.

"By removing the machines from unlicensed premises, the Government has already accepted that they are unsafe for children. If this is the case, the Government must explain why they are safe in arcades where children are free to enter without an adult."

Ms Jowell said that arcade owners would be under a duty to ensure that children only played on the lowest-value fruit machines.