Jowell 'flexible' in face of gambling revolt

Tessa Jowell is preparing to indicate she is "flexible" and "open-minded" over the Gambling Bill and could make some concessions to head off a growing revolt over plans for casinos with jackpots of up to £2.5m.

Tessa Jowell is preparing to indicate she is "flexible" and "open-minded" over the Gambling Bill and could make some concessions to head off a growing revolt over plans for casinos with jackpots of up to £2.5m.

The Secretary of State for Culture is considering a partial climb-down over plans to allow Las Vegas-style casino resorts in British towns as she was warned that the Government could lose the Bill in the Lords.

Ms Jowell, who returned from the United States yesterday, will today begin a string of urgent meetings with angry Labour MPs, several dozen of whom are preparing to abstain or to join the Tories and Liberal Democrats in voting against the Bill on Monday.

The MPs, some of whom have put down a Commons motion declaring that they will not support "the introduction of super casinos", say the plans will lead to low-income people being fleeced of their cash.

The Salvation Army also raised concerns that the proposals to allow high-value fruit machines in an unlimited number of casinos could lead to more problem gambling.

A close aide to the Secretary of State said she would "be listening respectfully and giving reassurances" when she comes to the despatch box on Monday. "Tessa is aware that there are legitimate concerns and she is going to be speaking to a lot of MPs between now and Monday," he said. "She is certainly open-minded about how the Bill could be improved."

There was serious concern that without a concession to cap the number of casinos or size of jackpots, the Bill could be defeated in the House of Lords.

A spokesman for the American company thatruns Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas and is planning a super casino in Wembley saidit could have 1,250 slot machines operating 24 hours a day with jackpots as high as £2.5m.

But yesterday there were indications that the British casino industry is growing uneasy about being too closely associated with big American gambling firms which have been lobbying for the super casinos. The US firms oppose EU money laundering legislation and have been using "aggressive" PR tactics to try to win over MPs and peers. Several politicians say they have been shocked by casino firms' heavy-handed attempts to "schmooze them". They said their aggressive tactics to try to influence them on issues such as gambling tax has backfired.

The former health secretary Frank Dobson said he was cancelling a trip to Botswana to vote against the Bill. "I don't think improving opportunities for people from middle and lower incomes to chuck their money away is a very good idea," he said.

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