Jowell 'tried to cover up talks on casinos'

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The row over the influence of US casino firms on gambling policy escalated yesterday asthe Tory leader, Michael Howard, accused the Government of holding talks with Las Vegas operators about "relaxing" money laundering rules.

The row over the influence of US casino firms on gambling policy escalated yesterday asthe Tory leader, Michael Howard, accused the Government of holding talks with Las Vegas operators about "relaxing" money laundering rules.

Mr Howard accused the Government of "offering concessions" to overseas casino operators and accused Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, of trying to "cover it up".

The charge followed the leaking of e-mails sent by the civil servant in charge of gambling policy at the Department of Culture to casino companies. One e-mail said the Department of Culture was "still interested" in their position on an EU money laundering directive. Another invited them to "another meeting" with Lord Macintosh, the minister responsible for casinos, asking them for "agenda items".

The Independent has learned that one of the world's biggest operators told MPs it was "continuing a positive dialogue" with the Government about EU anti-money laundering proposals. MGM Mirage, of Las Vegas, said it had "made representations to the Government" about the directive, which requires gamblers to present ID at casinos.

Yesterday Tony Blair was forced on the defensive over talks with overseas casinos. "What we know is that the Government has been offering concessions on money laundering to the operators of those casinos and the Secretary of State tried to cover it up," Mr Howard said in the Commons yesterday.

Mr Blair replied "I don't accept in any way at all that you have somehow shown that there have been concessions offered on money laundering to casino operators. It really is ridiculous of you to suggest such a thing."

An aide to Ms Jowell denied the Tory accusations that the Government had provided "dispensations" to the industry, but said money laundering had been discussed with overseas casino operators and probably with the Treasury.

"We will have had extensive two-way traffic with the Treasury on this Bill. I am sure there has been a dialogue with the Treasury on money laundering, I don't believe we had taken representations from these groups from America and said 'this is want they want'," the aide said,

The Treasury said it had consulted overseas casinos and the Department of Culture but categorically denied it would offer "exemptions" to overseas casino firms.

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