We should have loosened our gambling laws long ago

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The Independent Online

Once you get past the hackneyed title, "A safe bet for success", the Government's White Paper on liberalising gambling has much to recommend it. We – at least some of us – already derive pleasure from plenty of things that are risky: drinking, smoking and dangerous sports, to name but three. There is no reason why that list should not include gambling and why the experience should not be made a good deal more pleasant – and possibly, even, profitable.

Once you get past the hackneyed title, "A safe bet for success", the Government's White Paper on liberalising gambling has much to recommend it. We – at least some of us – already derive pleasure from plenty of things that are risky: drinking, smoking and dangerous sports, to name but three. There is no reason why that list should not include gambling and why the experience should not be made a good deal more pleasant – and possibly, even, profitable.

It is true that the incidence of addiction may rise, that those tempted to spend the most will often be those least able to afford it and that some individuals will face ruin as a result of easier access to betting. That, however, is a matter of personal responsibility, and many "problem" gamblers already find ways to feed their habit – the higher spenders by crossing the Channel or Atlantic, where casino gambling has long been more accessible than it is here. The internet offers further, fast-growing opportunities.

Overall, the benefits from loosening the current draconian regulations far outweigh the dangers. Gambling has come a long way from the furtive betting shops of the recent past, but the time is long overdue for those inclined to have a flutter to be able to do so in convenient, civilised and comfortable surroundings. Once the requirement is dropped that casinos operate as private clubs, the number of such gambling halls is likely to soar, along with the profits, the tax revenue and the winnings.

Declining seaside resorts are banking on a revival led by new casinos and related facilities, such as hotels, restaurants, theatres and spas. The experience of France and parts of the US that have liberalised gambling supports their optimism. There is money to be made and money – now untapped – that can be put to good use, as the National Lottery has shown.

No one pretends that gambling is an especially honorable pastime. It is a vice. The soullessness of many gambling establishments, especially those dominated by one-armed bandits, may repel many people who are drawn to casinos for the first time. They are not places for children – and the proposed stiffer rules on the admission of minors even to amusement arcades are all to the good. Adults, though, should be able to decide for themselves when, where and whether to gamble. The job of the Government is to stay out of the way, keep crime at bay – and smile all the way to the bank.

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