Rule change 'could let Mafia run casinos' UK'

A test of propriety that has kept the Mafia and other "rogue" businessmen out of British gambling for 30 years is to be removed by the Government as part of its modernisation of the gambling laws.

The "fit and proper" test which businessmen have to pass before being allowed a licence for a casino in the UK is to be replaced with a "modern" set of probity rules. The Government insists the new criteria, including the requirement that they do not have a "criminal conviction for a relevant offence", will be tougher. But some MPs and casino operators fear the change to the licensing laws could make it easier for unsavoury overseas businessmen to set up casinos in the UK.

Yesterday Julian Brazier, the Tory trade spokesman, said the "catch-all phrase" had given the British gaming authorities discretion not to allow businessmen with suspected mafia connections to run a casino, even if they had no criminal record and a "squeaky clean" financial background.

Some British casino operators said the "fit and proper" test allowed the authorities to keep out any operators suspected of intimidation or fixing games.

Under the new criteria, operators will have to pass a test of "integrity, competence" and financial suitability. But some MPs fear this will not give the gambling authorities enough discretion to keep unwanted operators out of Britain.

In the Commons this week, Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, raised concerns about the employment record of Sheldon Adelson, chief executive of the Las Vegas Sands casino company, which has contacted several football clubs in the UK with a view to adding casinos to their grounds. Mr Dismore told MPs that one of Mr Adelson's casinos had been fined $1m (£550,000) for "rigging contests and violating other Nevada gaming regulations".

"He has repeatedly been characterised as difficult to work with, and terrorising those who get in his way. That is the sort of person whom we could end up dealing with. We must ensure that such operators have no place in the UK's gaming industry," the MP warned.

Yesterday Mr Dismore said he wanted the criteria "tightened up" and the old rules to be retained. But the Department of Culture said it believed its new rules were tighter than before.

The British Casino Association said that it supported all moves to keep rogue overseas operators out of Britain. "I can't believe for a moment that anybody would disapprove of the intention of the fit-and-proper clause. It does give discretion to a regulatory body," said a spokesman. "It has worked effectively for 30 years."

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