Gambling report recommends stronger legal powers for punters

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Indy Politics

Punters will get the legal right to claim their winnings from unscrupulous bookmakers in a wide-ranging government overhaul of the £7bn-a-year gambling industry.

A long-awaited review of Britain's complex and often archaic gaming rules, to be published next month, will recommend giving stronger powers to consumers.

At the moment they have no legal redress if bookmakers fail to honour their debts, having to rely instead on a voluntary arbitration system.

In future they will be able to pursue their winnings through the courts, including cases in which bookmakers blunder in quoting odds for a race or event. Betting shops can currently fall back on a "palpable error" escape clause to refuse to pay out under such circumstances.

The review, chaired by Sir Alan Budd, calls for tougher scrutiny of the industry, overseen by a powerful new gambling regulator. It would assume responsibility for handing out licences to companies and senior staff, who would have to prove they have no criminal record. The industry will also have to open its books regularly to prove its finances are above-board.

The moves follow the announcement in the Budget that betting tax will be abolished next year. The step is expected to boost the industry's turnover by up to 50 per cent.

Restrictions on betting shops will be eased slightly, allowing them to have fruit machines with bigger jackpots and to sell lottery tickets, although they will remain out of bounds to under-18s.

Casinos will be allowed to advertise and to scrap the 24-hour waiting time between becoming a member and being let in. And in a move expected to increase the number of British casinos from 118 to about 200, rules on where they can be opened will be relaxed.

Sir Alan's review was submitted yesterday to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, which is expected to publish the report and its recommendations in three weeks' time. Its remit had been to find ways of scrapping unnecessary regulations on the industry.

A gambling industry source said: "This will be a surprisingly political report, tying in with government themes of protecting consumers and promoting social responsibility."

Chris Bell, chief executive of Ladbrokes Betting Worldwide, who said he had not seen the report, welcomed indications that Sir Alan's review had "put regulation and consumer protection at the heart of its recommendations." He said: "These proposals will modernise and streamline existing regulations and lay the foundations for an exciting future for the betting industry."