Government retreats on 'super-casinos'

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Indy Politics

Just a handful of "super-casinos" will be allowed to open after ministers signalled an embarrassing retreat on their controversial plans to liberalise gambling laws yesterday.

Following media attacks and opposition from many Labour MPs, the Government is preparing to allow the establishment of as few as four Las Vegas-style casinos offering unlimited jackpots.

A fortnight ago, the Government insisted that 30 or 40 of the "super-casinos" would be set up under the Bill. Since then ministers, taken aback by the extent and ferocity of the criticism, have accepted that their numbers should be restricted.

Richard Caborn, the Culture minister, told MPs that he would bring forward key amendments to the Bill following concerns over the plans, which critics have warned would increase problem gambling and lure criminals into the industry.

A Department of Culture, Media and Sport spokesman said: "We delayed it because we are still reflecting on the concerns that have been raised about casinos."

Ministers now accept that the numbers of "super-casinos" should be strictly limited initially while their impact is monitored.

But they have not agreed how many should be approved. John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is understood to favour establishing only four, while Downing Street advisers believe 10 could be opened on a pilot basis. However, the Department of Culture has run into difficulties as it tries to find a way out of a serious political problem. One is the risk of a challenge to any revised legislation from local authorities hoping to attract a casino.

John Whittingdale, the shadow Culture Secretary, said: "We welcome the fact that it appears the Government is preparing for a climb-down. The Government have had three years to get this Bill right. Today's emergency postponement shows the chaos the Government's policy is in."

Mr Caborn told MPs yesterday that most of the Bill was vital to bring gaming legislation up to date and protect young and vulnerable people. But he admitted: "There were concerns about one part of the Bill, namely casinos, and therefore we have decided to respond to that."

The Gambling Bill was attacked by rebel Labour MPs, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats in the Commons after its second reading last week. It is also certain to run into strong opposition in the Lords. After her Commons mauling, Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, said: "If what members of Parliament want to see is a more gradual approach then of course we will consider that. I will take very seriously constructive proposals for improving this Bill."

Under the Government's proposals, the "super-casinos" will contain up to 1,250 slot machines offering unlimited prizes. They would be open round the clock and the public would be allowed in immediately, with rules requiring a 24-hour membership period being scrapped.

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