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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Casinos and the working class

In an effort to take my mind off the voting in the United States I am going to be a little bit controversial. Although I fully understand the issues regarding gambling addiction that led Labour MPs to vote against their own Government's Gambling Bill last night it does seem to me that a lot of humbug was spoken on this issue.

The bulk of the opposition (and I do not exclude my own party in this) seems to have been founded on a form of puritanism, whilst speeches that warned of the vulnerability of ordinary working people to the temptation offered by slot machines and mega-casinos were, quite frankly, patronising.

Some of the worst examples were: "I see too many queues of people in shops who, to be honest, cannot afford to waste their money spending it on lottery tickets." and "there is a world of difference between ordinary folk who want to go to bingo halls and the proliferation of mega-casinos". There were many more.

There were of course some valid points as well, in particular the need to keep organised crime out of this market and the issue of local control, but on balance I do not have many problems with the Bill at this stage. As the objectors themselves pointed out, 90% of the legislation amounted to welcome regulation.

People chose whether to gamble or not. Addictive personalities could just as well focus on some other issue if gambling were not available to them. And in any case if these MPs were so interested in tackling addiction why are they not doing something about the huge problem society faces with alcohol and the easy availablity of that substance?

It is also the case that if these mega-casinos are properly planned and they do not grow in number too quickly, then they can anchor regeneration measures. This may not be suitable in areas like Powys but in Swansea a 55,000 square foot casino is already planned as part of the development of Wind Street. Together with a 12 screen cinema these two schemes will help to make the new development economically viable, remove an area of dereliction, bring much-needed investment to the City and create valuable jobs.

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