Jowell urged to keep ban on Christmas Day betting

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Plans to allow casinos and betting shops to open on Christmas Day would be "socially and personally damaging", church leaders and unions have warned. The Gambling Bill, now going through the Commons, would allow racing, with on-course bookies, on 25 December.

Plans to allow casinos and betting shops to open on Christmas Day would be "socially and personally damaging", church leaders and unions have warned. The Gambling Bill, now going through the Commons, would allow racing, with on-course bookies, on 25 December.

The move to lift the historic ban has also angered trade unions and opposition politicians, who say that it will rob betting shop workers and casinos of a day off. The Church of England and the Methodist Church have complained that allowing betting on Christianity's holiest days is unethical.

Last week representatives from faith groups and union leaders met Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture, to express their disquiet and to ask her to reconsider. A spokes-man for the Church of England said: "Our general concerns about the Gambling Bill is that it threatens serious personal and social damage. The principle that Christmas Day should remain a day when large shops are closed while permitting casinos and betting shops to be open is hard to comprehend. This kind of socially and personally damaging proposal has no place in this legislation."

Unions say it is hypocritical for the Government to support protection for workers in shops on Christmas Day while allowing gambling. Even racing bodies have expressed concern about the proposals.

Opposition politicians are expected to try to amend the Bill to retain the Christmas betting ban. Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a senior Liberal Democrat peer, is planning to write to Ms Jowell asking her to rethink her proposals. "Christmas Day is a special for families, not just Christians but people of all faiths and none," he said. "The Government backed the Christmas Day Trading Act, keeping large shops shut. Why then does the Gambling Bill open the doors of Britain's racecourses, dog-tracks and betting shops on Christmas Day? Their employees deserve Christmas Day at home with families, just like shopworkers or anybody else, especially as Boxing Day is the busiest racing day of the year."

Racing is not banned on Christmas Day although, in practice, courses do not open because the law would ban bookies and the Tote.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture said the Secretary of State recognised there was concern among some groups about the proposals to lift the Christmas Day ban and was "listening carefully to the arguments". Sources close to Ms Jowell said that she would consider amendments.

Next week, the Government will provide more details of further restrictions on the number of casinos that can be opened. After a revolt by Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs, the Government was forced to limit the number of super-casinos to eight, as part of a pilot scheme.

Now the Government plans similar limits on small and medium-sized casinos that would not be allowed fruit machines with unlimited jackpots. The move, to be announced next week, is designed to prevent a string of casinos springing up on high streets. The limits would be reviewed after three years.

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